The Island

2020 / 7786 words

Naomi’s phone rang. It was a very old rotary-dial phone, probably from the 70s. The ring sounded like an actual bell because it was an actual small bell inside the body of the phone.

She looked up from the papers in front of her, confused.

Naomi’s small house held mostly paper. Books lined the walls and stood in piles in the corners and by chairs. Papers lined the desk and the floor around the desk. The desk itself, a metal desk from the 50s, took up an entire quadrant of the main living area.

“What’s that noise?” she thought.

It wasn’t that Naomi was a Luddite. She just had more important things to worry about. Never once was she tempted to buy a smartphone. Her friends, used to her idiosyncrasies, didn’t bother her too much about it.

“Oh, the phone,” she said out loud. She sighed and returned to her work.

Naomi didn’t drive. She rode her bike, also a relic of the past, or rode the bus. She would bum a ride from a friend if absolutely forced to.

The phone continued to ring. Ten times. Twenty.

Naomi was a tenured professor at a small university in the pacific northwest. She had written a number of papers on the precise effects of a number of high-profile corporate pollution cases. There wasn’t a major company in the United States that hadn’t been the subject of her very accurate environmental science.

She sighed again and put down her pencil. She rose from her 50’s wooden desk chair and walked slowly towards the source of the ringing in her ears.

“Naomi Page?” asked the gruff, masculine voice on the other end of the line.

Naomi paused. She considered hanging up.


“This is Stephen White. I work for the Environmental Protection Agency.”

He suddenly had her attention.


Stephen, or just Steve if you were friends, proceeded to pitch Naomi on a project. He assured her that she was the perfect person for the job.

He spun a tale she could hardly believe. She believed it only because of all the crazy things she had learned corporations had done. Given this was the United States government itself, it would make sense that things could get crazier.

Sometime in the 1960’s–there would be time for more specifics later–the government set up a secret laboratory on an island off the coast of Washington. There was already a lighthouse there, providing adequate cover for the human traffic to and from the island. Certain covert experiments were done there–again, he explained, details would follow, should she accept the position–under various guises, but ultimately under the authority of the Department of Defense.

These experiments continued into the 70s. The lighthouse was automated, but the laboratories–well underground–continued to operate. The scientists and subjects stayed on the island for increasingly long periods. There were internal DoD politics and bureaucracy at play. The project got “a little out of control.”

“Did you say, ‘subjects’?”

“Yeah, but that’s not the issue,” Steve quickly moved past her question.

The entire operation was finally shut down in the 80s and the whole thing was forgotten about until recently. Certain events near the island, as well as some environmental measurements taken on the island, have the agency worried. But given the history, the entire situation was, in his words, “touchy”.

“Did you say, ‘events’?”

It wasn’t until Naomi found herself on a small boat on her way to the island that she realized that it was too late to back out.

When she agreed to meet Steve in Seattle and hung up the phone, it wasn’t too late.

When she filled out the clearance forms, it wasn’t too late.

When she drove to Seattle and unpacked her backpack at the hotel room, it wasn’t too late.

When she was driven to the EPA office downtown, it wasn’t too late.

When she was debriefed in horrible detail about the activities on the island, it wasn’t too late.

“We’re dropping you off on the mainland side of the island,” the boat captain said.

“What?” Naomi replied.

The captain said nothing in reply. He just gave her an imperious look.

And so it wasn’t until the boat was pulling away, leaving her alone on the island with a backpack, a tent, a sleeping bag, a trunk full of MREs and testing equipment, that she realized that then and only then was it too late to back out.

It was dusk, so she set about setting up her tent. She cooked an MRE. She contemplated the mutant sea life around the shores of the island. She contemplated the poisoned soil. She contemplated her health. She contemplated the rippling effects of the terrible pollutants that might be evident on the island.

But the moon showed a pleasant light and the stars were all so bright from there. The ocean sounded a beautiful symphony. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. Maybe she won’t find anything.

That first night on the island was all the reasons Naomi got into biology in the first place. The quiet. Nature. The birds nesting nearby. The waves lapping against the rocks. She turned her light off early, soon after she finished her dinner. She sat in the stillness for what felt like the entire evening but was probably only an hour. The night air held a chill and she retreated to her warm tent and sleeping bag.

That night she dreamt that she found a three-eyed fish, exactly like the one from The Simpsons. She woke just long enough to remember the dream and regretted watching that show as a teenager.

The morning light filtered through a pleasant fog. Naomi made breakfast and found an appropriate place to bury her morning business. She packed up her tent and modest camping gear. This wasn’t where she was going to start her studies. The abandoned building and underground structures of the lighthouse and labs were on the other side of the island. She could feel them looming over the small hills even though she couldn’t yet see them.

Her chest of equipment had wheels but was still quite heavy. Fortunately, the ground was relatively smooth. She had to take a few breaks but managed to get it across the island within a half-hour of hiking. Just like she had seen in the pictures, there was a small compound–the lighthouse, a small warehouse-like building, and a modest house that could have been plucked out of any pacific northwest neighborhood. They were all being repossessed by nature.

She was advised to not enter the buildings and based on the sight of them, she wasn’t tempted. There was not only the visible mold, but there were also probably invisible roaches and rats, and then there was the chain-link fence surrounding each building, as well as that against the shoreline, extending one hundred yards in either direction, deterring people from landing right here by the compound.

She found a decent spot to set up camp. She decided to wait on getting her own camp set up, but had a bigger awning and frame to set up to protect her equipment while it was in use. She set up her remote laboratory and got every piece of equipment, her array of sample tubes and containers, and every notebook in just the right place. She’d brought a couple of small folding tables and larger containers to help stay organized. After about an hour, everything was in the right place.

She started with water and soil samples. She fanned out in every direction, taking both surface and deeper samples with her coring tool. She walked down past the chain-link to access the water, focusing on the few tide pools she could find. She saw no life, but that wasn’t uncommon. This wasn’t the Caribbean, after all.

They were to pick her back up after seven days. She moved methodically through those first few days. She tested what she could with the equipment she brought with her. She stored other samples for testing later when she was back on the mainland. Nothing jumped out at her out of the first dozen or so tests she ran, but she knew not to cut bait too quickly. She continued to meticulously sample from the area around the compound, working her way outwards with mathematical precision. She took weather readings every two hours. It was like the sun never showed, and the fog barely ever lifted off the surface of the island. She kept her workspace and her campsite clean and orderly. She ate three square freeze-dried meals a day. She desalinated water and stayed hydrated.

She eyed the buildings and the lighthouse suspiciously.

One day of rare sunlight, she ventured near the chain-link fence. There were boot prints in the muddy grass there. She wondered when the last time another human was there, how old those prints were. She peered through the fence across the 20 or so yards to the building. She thought she saw more footprints–except the footprints of bare feet. She squinted but they did not appear any more clearly. She walked back to her campsite to retrieve her binoculars.

She returned with her binoculars and confirmed the footprints behind the fence were those of bare feet. She was genuinely puzzled. She found more bare footprints. They outnumbered the boot prints on her side of the fence significantly. They were uniform–large, but not unusual–likely those of a normal-sized man.

Naomi was so unfamiliar with the feeling of anxiety that she didn’t realize it was the cause of the strange murmur in her gut. She filed the mystery away in that part of her brain that chews on things in her sleep and got back to work.

The next day, while getting her equipment ready for another day of sampling and testing, she noticed a number of things out of place. She was certain that she had put everything in its place the day before–she always did. She looked around, the anxiety attempting to rise up through her chest. She unconsciously pushed it back down.

That day, while close to the compound’s fence, she had an intrusive thought: what’s behind that fence, and how could she find out. When she got back to her campsite she inventoried her tools, looking for something that could cut the chain link fence.

She cut just enough to climb through on her hands and knees. It immediately seemed like the air smelled differently. She could see the mold on the side of the buildings but the air smelled like chlorine. She approached the first building–what was the lighthouse keeper’s house.

The door was locked. There was even an extra bracket and lock across the door and the doorframe. Naomi observed that it was a worn wooden door and briefly considered just kicking it in, but she quickly decided against leaving any more of a trace–the cut fence was going to be potential trouble enough.

She circled the building, looking for other openings. She peered through the dirty windows. The inside of the building was nondescript. Not much was left inside. There was an entrance to a basement, the old kind where the doors are at an angle and opened up and out. She gave the handles a tug and the doors moved a little but then refused to open further, seemingly inhibited by an inner lock. She yanked with more force, twice. On the second time, something broke loose and the door was released. Naomi flew backward and landed on her backside in the wet grass and dirt. The door fell back down onto its frame with a loud bang. Her heart was racing.

She climbed back onto her feet and returned to the cellar doors. She pulled one, then the other open and they fell against the ground loudly. She peered into the darkness, quickly remembering she had a flashlight in her pocket. She pulled it out, flicked it on, and walked down the stairs.

Inside there was evidence of habitation. A small cot. A small table. A small stack of books. A Farewell to Arms. East of Eden. Ender’s Game. The floor was dirty but there was evidence of recent movement across it.

“Someone is here,” she thought. The doors to this basement room were seemingly barred from the inside when she first attempted to open them, but there was no one inside this room. She let her flashlight cast across the walls, and she saw it: a large metal door with no handle. She stepped closer and realized there was a slight gap. She pulled out her pocket knife, opened it, and slipped it into the gap, using it as a lever. The door opened enough for her to get her fingers around it. She pulled it open, and it scraped across the concrete floor of the basement with a terrible sound that made her wince. Cold air rushed in from below. She pointed her flashlight into the opening, revealing a metal staircase that descended into the darkness beyond the reach of her light. She started walking.

The stairs were metal grates, straight out of a science fiction movie. The sides of the passageway were rough concrete. Naomi descended one flight and discovered a metal landing. One more flight down and the staircase ended at the mouth of a long steel hallway. The floor was steel, the walls were steel, the ceiling, steel. Industrial light fixtures hung from the ceiling at distant intervals. Even when they worked, this must have been a dim place.

She could make out a door down the hall. She walked slowly towards it. The door–much like the one at the top of the stairs–lacked a doorknob. There was some kind of panel next to it–a card reader, perhaps? There was a small, dirty window high up on the door. It was too high for Naomi to see anything inside but the ceiling, and the window was so dirty that the glare mostly obscured everything beyond anyway.

She knew this was part of the laboratory. She knew she was not supposed to be there. She wasn’t quite sure why she was. Her investigative instincts had simply kicked in once she saw those fresh footprints. Now, in the dark underground passage, she was suddenly overcome with second thoughts. Were they fresh prints? Were they footprints at all? Perhaps a bird had just stirred up the dirt in a certain way. Maybe she was just suffering an isolation-induced lack of mental clarity.

She drew a deep breath, slowly turned, and pointed her flashlight further down the hallway. Her curiosity was now too much. She took another step, and then another. It was then that the light from her flashlight briefly showed back at her from the distance in the shape of two eyes.

Before she could comprehend the horror of her situation and feel fear, a desperate voice came out of the dark. “Please!” was all it said.

Shock replaced the impending fear, and Naomi didn’t know what to do or say. She still couldn’t make out the person at the length of her flashlight’s beam.

“Please don’t hurt me!” the voice said. It was a man’s voice. It was flat and nondescript, but the words were spoken in fear.

“I won’t hurt you!” Naomi replied, and took slow, deliberate steps forward in an effort to better see with whom she was dealing. She saw a man, crouched down, with his back against the side of the passageway. He was naked. “What’s your name?” she asked, her voice lowering as she got closer.

“Dave,” he replied.

“Dave, what are you doing here?” she asked.

“When they left, I hid,” he said.

“The government people?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, the fear in his voice ratcheting up, “are you with them?”

“No,” she replied, instinctively. She was, she realized, but the fact that she was alone on this island with a potentially mentally unstable man caused her to choose her truths carefully. She wasn’t with them right now.


“How long have you been here?”

“I don’t know. When did they leave?”

She knew the answer was 35 years prior if she was following accurately, and the possibility that a man had lived here on his own, undetected for that long seemed too far fetched to believe.

“Do you have some clothes we can get you?” she asked. She could see more now. His body was odd. His form seemed slightly misshapen and his skin blotchy. He had no hair on his head. His fingers were too long. He remained in his crouched position, so it was difficult to make out more.

“Clothes?” he asked as if the fact that he was naked had not occurred to him.

“Yes, so you can be more comfortable,” she replied.

“Oh. Sure. I don’t know. There might be some somewhere down here.”

“How much farther does this go?” she asked.

“Oh. Much farther.”

“Do you remember seeing any clothes?”

“I think there might be some white coats in this room right here,” he said and gestured farther down the dark hallway. “Could you turn off your light?”

Naomi wasn’t about to turn off her flashlight and share this pitch-black, narrow space with a strange naked man. She pointed it towards the ground about halfway between them. “Better?”

“Ok. I couldn’t see there with that bright light.” He rose from his position near the floor. He was tall and thin but muscular. His body was middle-aged but his skin and face and bald head aged him. He walked away down the hall. Naomi resisted the urge to run–where would she run to? She slowly followed behind and soon they were at another flat metal door along the side of the hallway.

Dave squeezed his long fingers into the slim gap between the door and the wall and pulled it out about halfway. He glanced briefly at Naomi and entered the room. As she walked through the opening behind him, she tried to push the door open further. It wouldn’t budge.

Inside the room, Naomi threw her light around, and there was indeed a small rack of white lab coats in the corner. “There you go,” she said, steading the light on the rack. He again looked at her but quickly walked towards the rack, pulled down a lab coat, and put it on. He buttoned the front while Naomi averted her eyes. It was a little bit too big, which was a good thing, as it better covered his midsection and some of his thighs.

“Now what?” Dave asked.

“Let’s go back up to the surface,” Naomi suggested. She was certainly curious about what lay further below, but fear and common sense combined to overcome her investigative instincts.

Dave paused. “Ok,” he finally replied.

“Go ahead,” Naomi said. She didn’t want Dave out of her sight and for sure did not want him right behind her as they walked back through the dark hallway, up those stairs, and into that tiny cellar.

They walked quietly. Once they emerged into the dim light of the cellar, Naomi asked, “Is this where you’ve lived?”

“Yes,” replied Dave, bluntly, and emotionless. He stopped before exiting the cellar. “I’m not comfortable out there,” he motioned up the short staircase to the outside. “It’s too bright.”

Naomi glanced at her watch. It was late afternoon. “Maybe once the sun has started to set?” She had no idea what they were going to do in the meantime. She didn’t want to let him out of her sight.

“Sure.” He sat on the cot, hunched over, staring at the floor.

Naomi stood for about a half-hour, but eventually, her feet began to complain, so she sat on the floor across from Dave. They sat in silence for two hours.

The sun began to get low enough that the cellar became uncomfortably dark for Naomi.

“I have some food if you’re hungry,” she offered.

“I’m not,” Dave replied.

“Well, I am. Why don’t you step outside with me? The sun’s setting.”

“Ok,” Dave shrugged.

They went back to Naomi’s campground and Dave sat down on the ground. Naomi quickly offered a blanket when she realized the lab coat wasn’t covering him in that position. It was getting cold, so she had a reason to offer besides what she thought was obvious, but to which Dave was clearly oblivious. He accepted the blanket and laid it over his legs.

She heated her meal and as she too sat on the ground to eat it she asked, “So what happened when they left?”

“It was pretty chaotic. They were packing their stuff in a hurry and taking it up to the surface. I overheard them talking about taking us, and I got scared. So that night, right after the sun went down, while they were still carrying stuff to the surface, I snuck out. I can run pretty fast, and see pretty good in the dark, so I just flipped off the lights every time I ran by a light switch, and then ran across the island to those rocks over there,” he motioned behind him. His arm was gaunt but muscular in the dim camp light, the too-long fingers accentuated as he pointed.

“Then what?”

“Then, they left.”

“They didn’t try to find you?”

“They did, but I hid under the water. I can hold my breath for a pretty long time. And they didn’t look for that long. They were in a hurry.”

“Huh.” They didn’t tell Naomi about any sudden shuttering of the facility. They made it sound like it just wound down. She had already put it together that Dave was some kind of subject of their experiments. From what they told her in her briefing, they only experimented on animals, and that was horrible enough. But for some reason this new information still only spurred curiosity.

“What did they do to you?”

Dave looked at Naomi and for the first time, she noticed his eyes were like green marbles. His pupils were glassy like he had cataracts. Despite their appearance, they still communicated great sadness.

“I was pretty desperate. I was addicted to heroin and it had scuttled what little life I had. I wasn’t scraping up enough money to score before I would have days of terrible withdrawals. I saw the ad in the back of the free paper that said to call collect. There was a brief interview at the Navy recruitment office. Next thing I knew I was on a boat here. They realized I was an addict and gave me stuff to wean me off. I didn’t know how long I was going to be here.”

“What year was that?” Naomi asked, dreading the answer.

“1965.” Neither spoke for what felt like a long time. She could tell by his facial expression that she was giving away something with hers. “What year is it now?”

Naomi paused before deciding to not evade the question. “2015.”

Dave’s eyes widened. His mouth opened. He looked at his hands, then his arms, then the rest of his body. “I still look the same as when they left. I…I thought they left a few weeks ago…” He looked back at Naomi. She looked back with genuine sympathy.

“I know some of the details of what occurred here, but clearly I was not told all of the details. I would like to help you. I would like to figure out what happened to you.”

“What happened to me?” Dave repeated, confused.

“There were experiments done here. On humans.” Naomi said.

“I know that,” David replied, almost annoyed.

“That’s pretty much all I know,” Naomi continued. “Something about what was used or done here has caused some environmental impact. I was brought here to help determine exactly what environmental impact.”

“They gave us pills. Lots of pills. All the time. And shots. Lots of shots. They fed us the same twenty-one meals every week. We could tell what day of the week it was based on what we were fed. There weren’t any clocks or calendars or anything from the outside world.

“It was like prison. Except every time we complained they reminded us of how much money we were going to get when we were done.”

“How much was that?”

“$300 a week. We’d count the weeks and the money in our minds every time the meals repeated. They said we could leave any time we wanted after the first month, but they’d remind us of how much we were making. They were very convincing. Very convincing.” His words trailed off and his eyes became unfocused. Then he suddenly snapped back.

“And I was always just so tired. I slept a lot. I didn’t really have anything to go to if I did leave. So I just kept going.”

“What other details can you give me? Did you know what the pills and the shots were?”

“No, we didn’t. And there aren’t many details to give. It was very monotonous. Oh, we took a lot of tests. I was never really good at school so I didn’t really bother to try on the paper tests. There were other tests, too, though. Like hitting buttons when certain lights lit up. And running on a treadmill with a bunch of stuff hooked up to us, like a tube we had to breathe through. On those, I liked to try harder each time, but they never did tell us how we did.”

“You said you can hold your breath for a long time. Do you know how long is a long time in this case?”

“No. A couple of minutes, maybe?”

“Do you mind if we see how long? I can time you while you hold your breath.” Naomi was slightly ashamed to subject Dave to a test so quickly after discovering his presence on the island, but her data-driven brain needed some more concrete facts.

“Uh, sure, I guess. Are you ready?”

Naomi brought up the stopwatch feature on her digital watch. “Ready.”

Dave inhaled deeply and then closed his mouth. He stared at Naomi. Naomi alternated between returning his gaze and looking down at her watch. She looked for evidence of breathing. His chest was perfectly still. He was perfectly still–just a hunched-over, troll-like figure staring at her with those glassy eyes.

A minute passed and he still hadn’t moved. Then two. Naomi waited expectantly for that big exhale to come when he was forced to expel the air in his lungs in order to get more into them.

Five minutes passed and still, he sat, entirely still and having taken no breath.

At ten minutes Naomi started to wonder what they could have done to him to give him this ability. She started to wonder how long she was going to have to sit there in silence waiting.

Finally, just as the stopwatch ticked past fifteen minutes, Dave’s chest fell and Naomi could hear the sound of air moving through his nose. But it wasn’t the dramatic moment she expected. He just started breathing normally again and said, “Ok, done.”

“That was exceptional. Nearly impossible,” Naomi said. Dave just shrugged his shoulders. She needed some time to think. To start to piece all of this together. She needed to find out what they did to Dave. That probably involved going deeper into that underground facility. The thought made her shudder.

“Is there anything else down there?” she asked. “Any equipment, supplies?”

“Empty cabinets, rags, beakers, other empty containers, maybe some papers, stuff like this,” and Dave grabbed the lab coat he was wearing by the lapel. “They cleaned it out really good.”

“Have you investigated thoroughly?”

“Not really.”

“Could you do me a favor and go through every nook and cranny? Bring back anything that looks like it might possibly have any kind of information. Any dirty beakers. Any piece of paper.”

“Why don’t you come with, to see for yourself?”

“I don’t want to go back down there.”


“We can start in the morning. In just a couple of days, they’re coming back to pick me up. We have to figure out what happened to you, and we have to get you off this island. And we can’t let anyone know. But I’m tired, and I need time to think.”

“I’ll just start now. I’m not tired.”

“Ok, suit yourself. I’m going to take some notes and try to sleep.”

Dave stood up and straightened his lab coat. “Thanks,” he said.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Naomi replied dismissively.

“Well, thanks just the same,” Dave said and walked into the dark towards the compound.

Away from him for the first time in hours, Naomi’s body relaxed just a little bit, and exhaustion washed over her. She walked towards the ocean and stood in the quiet for a while, thinking. On one hand, it was obvious what had happened here, on the other hand, there were far too many unanswered questions. Dave was a victim, obviously. But what was he now, physically? Were they engineering superhumans? Flesh and bone weapons? Were they just testing drugs and this was the result? Why were they so careless as to leave a subject behind? How had he lived here on his own for so long, and how did he not have any sense for the time that had passed? She didn’t like having so many unanswered questions. She hadn’t even found anything in the environment here to give her any clues in terms of her original purpose. She didn’t like having more questions now. Well, she liked it a little bit.

Still, the entire thing kept her under threat. Dave was a complete unknown. He might kill her in her sleep. Although he could have done that at any moment thus far. The government people who sent her here could do anything. Clearly, they were capable of unspeakable things and were interested in keeping those things a secret. If she now knew that secret, what would keep them from keeping her locked up for life?

It was starting to feel like too much. She walked back to her tent and laid down. She couldn’t sleep, but just being horizontal felt good. She closed her eyes but kept her ears alert.

She needed to focus on what was most important. There was a man here who was clearly the victim of powers greater than either one of them. He deserved a life, especially since so much of his life up until this point had been taken from him. She needed a plan for that. Some fight against a government organization with no morals and unlimited resources was outside of her limits for now. They needed to get off this island. Then she could worry about the rest.

Eventually, the sound of the ocean and the wind overcame her vigilance and Naomi drifted off. When she came to, the clouds were a dim blue from the pre-dawn light.

The previous days’ events rushed through her mind like a near-death experience. Had it been real? Maybe it was a dream. No, it was real. She looked around. Dave wasn’t anywhere she could see, but there was a pile of things in the corner of her campground. More lab coats, some banker’s boxes, and some laboratory glassware. He’d brought some stuff up. Time to look through it. But first, coffee.

As she made her coffee Dave approached from the compound, carrying another banker’s box. He squinted and walked hunched over. He was like a gaunt hunchback of Notre Dame.

“There’s really not that much down there,” he said as he approached, and put the box down with the others.

“Ok. That’s ok,” Naomi instinctually replied.

“This light is still really bothering me,” he said. “I’m going to go back for a bit.”

The dense clouds and barely-risen sun meant the area was still eerily dark, but Naomi could imagine what living in complete darkness for decades could do. “Ok,” she replied, and Dave turned to walk back to the compound.

In two of the boxes were papers, but at first glance, there was no paydirt there. This was going to be a puzzle she would have to piece together from random, seemingly innocuous notes and ledgers. She had a little over 48 hours until they came to pick her up. The only odd thing she’d discovered was Dave’s presence–and that was plenty odd–but no clues as to what was done to him or with what substances, or what might be polluting the area or causing anomalous creatures or events. She knew Dave was the secret key to blowing this whole story wide open, but she already had solid reasons to help keep him safe and his existence hidden.

The rest of the morning Naomi worked diligently tabulating the data she had, both from her environmental studies and from the things brought out of the compound by Dave. Nothing was appearing in the data.

As her stomach started reminding her it was lunchtime, she thought about Dave. She grabbed her flashlight and again headed towards the main building’s cellar. As she approached she quietly called out for him.

“Yes,” he replied from within the cellar.

“How are you doing?” she asked from outside. One of the two doors had been pulled shut, leaving half of the opening to talk through.

“Fine,” he said, flatly.

“Do you need anything? Any food?”

“No, I’m not hungry.”


“Did you find anything in that stuff I brought out?”

“Not yet, but I’m still collecting as much data as I can. I might not figure anything out while still here. I might need to take things back to my lab.”

“Oh, ok.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?”

“For being here,” he said. “But I’m ok, you can go back to your work. I’ll pop out later to see if you’ve found anything else.”

Naomi didn’t know how to respond. “Ok,” she said. She paused, feeling like she should say something more, but couldn’t think of anything, so she turned and headed back to her campground.

Since all the objects from the compound’s labs were seemingly clean and data-free, Naomi went back to collecting samples from the environment. She’d focused on the land so far, but it was time to focus on the water. She didn’t have the equipment to do any testing whatsoever on the water, and she had no plans on taking any living creatures back to her lab with her, so she had simply brought a number of vessels with which to collect seawater samples with.

She made her way along the shore where she could – on either side of the long fence – collecting samples. She tried to focus on tide pools or other areas where water had collected and been still for a while, hoping that water might have picked up some traces of…anything. It was while crouched down to scoop some water out of a tide pool that she saw it. It was fish that looked very much like a large piranha. It was about twice the size of a normal piranha and had accentuated, sharp scales on its back and a boney face. It was looking right at her, easily controlling its movements and remaining still in the swells along the shore.

Naomi stood, startled, and dropped her collection vessel. It bounced off the rocks at her feet and the fish leaped from the water towards it – and her. She yelped and stumbled backward, almost falling but managing to get one foot back off the wet rocks and onto drier land. The fish, now on the rocks just before her, didn’t flap. It almost stood, using its unusual ventral fins to steady itself. Then, using coordinated movements of its clearly strong muscles, it gradually spun itself around and lept back into the water.

Naomi was so entranced by the fish she’d forgotten that it had just tried to attack her. Had she just watched a fish walk on land and jump back into the water?

The fish turned in the water and again looked back up at her. His eyes were oddly bright and calm.

Once she had composed herself Naomi sped-walked back to her campsite and immediately wrote down as much as she could about her encounter with the giant sentient sea-piranha. Then she put her notebook down, sat for a few minutes longer to let her system fully recover, and then stood and marched towards the compound.

She threw open the still-closed half of the cellar door and descended the stairs. Dave was there, sitting on the cot. He looked up, surprised.

“I was just attacked by a giant sentient sea-piranha,” she stated flatly.

Dave’s face expressed surprise but he didn’t say anything.

“There is no such thing,” she continued and crossed her arms. “Well, there was no such thing. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Dave said, truthfully.

“This is why they sent me here. Something about what they were doing here–what they were doing to you and others like you–has also caused changes to the environment and other living things in that environment. Or–were they also doing experiments on animals? Fish?”

“I don’t know,” Dave repeated. He looked honestly confused. “I don’t think so,” he added, vainly attempting to be useful in the face of determination. Naomi continued to stand defiantly. “I found some more stuff,” he said, pointing to a pile of similar artifacts he had piled in the corner. Naomi could make out their shape in the dim dusk light just barely illuminating the room. She sighed.

“Ok, thank you. Let’s get you some fresh air and some dinner. Surely you’re hungry by now.”

“Not really,” Dave replied

Under her direction, they gathered the objects Dave had collected and carried them back to Naomi’s campsite. She prepared some food and she gave some to Dave without asking. He accepted but only poked at it with his fork. Naomi felt herself getting annoyed. Had they genetically engineered away his need for food? What had he lived on for decades on this god-forsaken island?

Naomi slept slightly better that night, despite the encounter with the fish. She would have one more night on the island and then she–they–would get out of here. She could get Dave to safety, get herself back to her own office, and hopefully–if they let her–do a more detailed study of the samples she was able to collect.

For most of that final full day on the island, she carefully scraped anything she could off the inside of beakers, collecting as many molecules as she could hope for into slender airtight sample containers. She took any paper that looked like it might have some piece of the puzzle and hid it away among her own papers. All the documents–as few as there were–were obviously unclassified information.

They would have to put all the crap from below ground somewhere before they left. When the sun began to set, she took a handful back to the cellar where Dave was dutifully sitting, and asked him to bring the rest of it back there. He did so quietly and meticulously. She helped with the final bits and saw that he had carefully stacked all the items and boxes against the wall of the small room.

When they had returned to the campsite, Naomi said, “Now, how are we going to get you off this island?”

“Off the island?” Dave asked.

“Yes. Obviously, we need to get you out of here,” she said flatly.

“Ah. Yes. Obviously.”

“I’ve been thinking about it. Given your…your physical abilities…do you think you could hang onto the boat for the duration of the trip back to shore?”

“I don’t know.” Dave looked off into the distance. “How fast does it go?”

“Not very fast,” Naomi replied quickly.

“I could try, I guess.”

“If you couldn’t hang on the entire way, do you think you could swim the rest of the way?”

“I don’t know that either. I haven’t been swimming in…well…decades, I guess.”

“But you could swim? Before?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Ok. I think this is the best plan. The boat isn’t large enough to sneak onto. We can’t let anyone know about your…well, your existence.”

“What do you think they would do to me?” Dave asked, concerned.

“I don’t know, but I’m fairly certain it would be bad. Possibly very bad.”

“Would they…kill me?”

“I don’t know.” She didn’t know, but she guessed it was either that or something worse than that.

“Ok, I’ll do it.”

“This means you’ll have to be out here during the day.”

“Ok…I guess I’ll squint a lot?” Dave made his statement into a question and shrugged comically. He smiled. It was the first time Naomi had seen him smile. She thought she saw something off about his teeth but didn’t really get a good look during the brief moment.

“Ok…so tomorrow morning I’m going to pack up and head over to the far side of the island. You could make your way along the coast while I’m still packing up and get over there about the same time, sneak up to the boat when it arrives, and figure out some way to hold on. I’m not sure about that part. Just stay clear of the propeller!”

Naomi went on to describe where they would rendezvous after they had arrived on the mainland. She was going to make a fuss about getting a decent night’s sleep and demand she be allowed to go to the only motel in the small coastal city. He could meet her there. They could figure out some proper clothing for him and formulate the next part of the plan then.

She wasn’t sure if Dave slept that night. The last thing she saw before she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer was his slumped shape in the dim lamplight, his eyes pointed towards the dark distance outside the campsite.

In the morning they executed their plan exactly as discussed the evening prior. He wordlessly waved goodbye and began walking up the coast of the island. She meticulously packed her things back into the wheeled chest and hiked it back over the island in a straight line to the mainland side.

She waited at what she hoped was the right spot and looked up the coast for any indication of Dave’s approach. She saw nothing. Eventually, the boat appeared out of the fog. Greetings were short and the two-man crew helped her with her chest, heaving it into the boat and then giving her a hand up the ladder. She looked again up the coast and around the boat as subtly as possible but did not see any sign of Dave.

It felt good to be getting off that horrible island. The mainland appeared soon enough, and by the time she was stepping onto the dock, it was almost like she was already forgetting the strange events and the strange person she encountered there. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw movement below the dock. She turned to get a better look but couldn’t see anything.

Convincing the Navy man that she needed to spend a night at the motel was easier than she expected. They made plans for him to retrieve her the next morning. He even offered to take her to the motel, but she thought it better to walk. “It’s really just there,” she said.

The real bed was actually a great relief, and after leaving a note on the front door–she was pretty sure she was the only person staying there that day–Naomi laid down on top of the tacky comforter and closed her eyes.

After an hour, she decided she had better go look for Dave. Maybe he was being careful and not risking exposure while it was still light out. The motel faced the street but had a large gravel parking lot and was loomed over by thick, tall trees behind it. She walked around the building and through the small bit of forest behind the motel.

When she got back to her door having seen no trace of Dave, she decided to go eat. She left the note on the door and the door unlocked. Hopefully, he’d be smart enough to just stay there if he arrived while she was out.

The tiny diner down the street was the perfect spot to sit alone and have pancakes for dinner. Naomi drank English breakfast tea with milk and sugar. She suddenly craved a cigarette. She hadn’t smoked in over a decade.

She returned to an empty motel room. There was no indication that anyone had been in the room since she left. She stayed up, alternating between reading, writing, and staring into space. She looked out the window frequently. Eventually, at close to 2 am, she fell asleep. She was careful to set an early alarm. She needed to get out of there before the Navy man came by.

At 6 am she again walked around the building, starting to feel like she was searching for a lost dog but not knowing what to yell out into the quiet morning air. Maybe he never made it to the boat. Maybe he couldn’t find the motel. Maybe he hadn’t made it across, had lost his grip, and drowned. “Shit,” Naomi thought to herself. This was going to haunt her forever.

At 6:30 she called for a taxi. At 7:00 the taxi slowly drove through the small seaside town. Out of the foggy window, Naomi saw flashing lights. A covered body was lying in the middle of a side street, surrounded by what must have been every police officer and sheriff in the area. The taxi driver slowed to rubberneck and she rolled down her window. Was that long, dark hair extending beyond the edges of the covering cloth? Was that a large bloodstain on the road next to the body?

The taxi driver whispered an obscenity and pressed the gas pedal a little too hard, pushing Naomi against the seat. She wanted to tell him to stop, to go ask what had happened, but she couldn’t think of a way of doing so inconspicuously.

As they pulled out of town the hills grew upwards on either side, covered in tall, lush evergreens. As she looked up, she thought she saw a flash of white moving through the forest. It disappeared as fast as it appeared. It was not unlike the white of a long-forgotten lab coat.