Summerland, Part II
An island rocked by storm, a man apart, and a woman with a rare blood disease who can't bear the light of day.
Library of Congress. Remix by Jasonic Temple Koebler
Halloween is upon us—and therefore it's the ideal time to ingest the unsettling conclusion to Geoff Manaugh's modern horror epic. Part one is here. Enjoy.
Peter nearly stood up—out of shock, not greeting. Caroline sat cramped and misshapen in a wheelchair. Unwashed brunette hair cascaded down her shoulders and chest, forming dense and wild knots. Her skin was nearly paper-white, with a subtle blue tone in her fingertips that made it look as if she had emerged from a freezer. Light blue lines whorled up her forearms and neck. Peter realized those were veins, visible in the firelight. Worse, Caroline’s lower lip appeared to be bleeding, a small drop of blood poised there in the shadows.
“Ca—” Peter started. “Caroline—I…” He had no idea what to say.
Grace wheeled Caroline into the room and stopped her chair pointing not at the fire, but at Peter.
“How…” he started. “How—are you?” The question, he knew, was absurd and Caroline didn’t answer it. She didn’t speak.
“Let her wake up a little,” Grace said and she gestured to Peter to stay in his chair. Grace herself then sat down, but she remained at the edge of her seat, one delicate hand poised on Caroline’s wheelchair. “Give her time.” The expression on Grace’s face was heartbreaking, a mix of maternal devotion and obvious fear. She exchanged a brief glance with Peter, as if to say, Now you know what I’m dealing with. Now you know why we’re here.
“She’s getting better,” Grace said, but it was wishful, longing. It was not Peter she was trying to reassure.
He tried to avoid staring at Caroline, looking instead at the doorway behind her—a doorway her wheelchair now blocked—listening to the strengthening winds of the storm outside. Detonations of thunder blended with the shuddering of the Ostermans’ house, creating a kind of continuous roar. He felt his adrenaline begin to rise.
“What is she taking for this?” he asked. He thought he could figure out what the disease might be if he knew what Caroline was taking.
“Well, what isn’t she taking,” Grace said. “Antibiotics, sedatives, an anti-spasmodic, colloidal silver.”
“It… fights something in the blood.” Grace shrugged. She went silent, her eyes watery. “Oh, Caroline,” she whispered. There was immense sadness in her voice. “My beautiful Caroline. You don’t deserve this, honey. It’s been so hard.”
As Grace spoke, Caroline’s head lolled back and forth, as if she were continually falling asleep and reawakening. But, Peter realized, beneath her heavy lids, Caroline was watching him. Her eyes were fixed on him, somewhere just above his chest.
“It’s all about blood,” Grace continued. “The antibiotics, the transfusions they gave her, it’s like she… It’s like she doesn’t have enough. Enough blood. Or she needs new blood, more blood that can wash the sickness away. Dilute it. She needs blood.”
Peter tried to sit still, to keep his nervous energy in check, to project a sense of calm he could not be further from feeling. He began bouncing one foot up and down on the floor and rubbed his hand across his face. The room felt hot as a sauna.
He had been watching Grace’s hands tenderly hold onto Caroline’s wheelchair, then gently rub the skin on her daughter’s forearm. She was just a terrified mother comforting a sick, perhaps dying, child, telling her everything was going to be okay.
Peter looked closer. He noticed small, pearlescent blisters raised on the backs of Caroline’s hands, like something from an allergy or perhaps sunburn—
“Holy shit,” he stammered.
Caroline’s wrists were strapped to the wheelchair with plastic zip-ties.
“Why—why is she strapped to the wheelchair?”
Peter stood up.
The sudden movement and his abrupt tone startled Caroline. She flinched, jerking her arms up against the zip-ties and, where the plastic rings dug into her flesh, her skin turned blue. She opened her mouth and a stunted, crying sound emerged, like an animal in pain. Perhaps it was a trick of the firelight, but her tongue looked black.
“Peter!” Grace hissed. “ Peter! Please. Sit down. Peter, please. Look at me.”
Peter felt sweat pouring down his torso, his entire body tensing up.
“Peter,” she insisted. “ Calm down. Everyone reacts like this. It’s why we came here to get away. You’re just scaring her.”
He tried to breathe, slowly, looking down at them both. No one spoke. Then, beneath the storm winds, Peter noticed a quiet slithering sound that, he realized, came from Caroline’s zip-ties sliding along the arms of her wheelchair, as if trying to slip free. When he looked back at Caroline’s face, she was staring at him.
“Grace,” he said. “Grace—God, I’m so sorry, Grace. I’m sorry about Caroline—I’m sorry that you… that this… But I…
She needs blood, Grace’s voice echoed in his head.
“Look, I’ve had too much to drink,” he blurted. “I didn’t eat dinner. I—I better get back before the storm’s worse. I’m… sorry.”
He then spoke directly to Caroline, saying he would be back, that she was going to get better, that the medication was doing its work and she was probably already through the worst of it. He then slunk around them both to reach the door—confronting the cavernous darkness of the unlit living room beyond.
He realized he was walking deeper into a house that he did not know how to leave. Antiques shrouded in dust cloths were just barely visible in the gloom.
“Peter,” Grace said, but he kept walking ahead, brushing against dust cloths that felt like someone else’s clothing, standing there with him in the dark. He tried desperately to make out the light of the kitchen. Had Grace turned the light off? He could only hear the drip-drip-drip of the leak, now much faster as the rain outside had increased. The storm must be nearing its peak.
“ Peter,” Grace said again, and he could tell from her voice that she was in the room with him now, and quite close.
Finally, Peter made it past a dividing wall and the kitchen light appeared, a square of soft electric light down the corridor. He hurried into the room and stopped. My God, he thought, what was wrong wit him? He felt like a fool—he had lost it at the sight of a childhood friend now confined to a wheelchair and he had left Grace, one of his mother’s oldest friends, without saying anything like a proper goodbye.
Ashamed at how badly he had handled himself, he turned to face the darkness—where Grace appeared.
She stood in the doorway of the kitchen, in a state halfway between tears and horror.
“She—she sleeps during the day, Peter. We just have to get through another night. She won’t be a problem—she’s—she’s not a problem.” The cascade of emotions crossing Grace’s face was difficult for Peter to watch. “I… I could use your help. While she’s sleeping tomorrow. Why don’t we trade? I can help you pack your parents’ things, if you can help me stop this damn leak. And we can get the power back on. What do you think, Peter? Please.”
When Peter got back to the cottage, he locked the door behind him. He then took two empty whisky bottles out of the recycling bin and stood them up in front of the door. The bottles would fall over and wake him if someone tried to break in. It was a poor man’s burglar alarm—or, at least, he thought, an alcoholic’s.
The storm had grown to monstrous intensity, shaking the cabin so badly that, at one point, Peter feared the roof might collapse. Branches fell from the trees outside with such regularity, Peter almost got used to the sound.
Once again, of course, he could not sleep.
This feeling of being isolated, at the mercy of the elements, was one of the very reasons Peter had stopped coming up to the river in the first place. He never got the same pleasure out of it as his parents did, who found the island calming, grounding, a respite from the suburban New York world where they lived.
For Peter, Summerland was not a refuge but a place of nervous isolation, a kind of island-prison surrounded by deep waters he never chose to swim in. It was a remote, limited existence populated by families and other kids who, to be honest, he tended to avoid. Even Caroline he had mostly admired from afar.
This return, he knew, was purely for his parents. He was doing what he needed to do, to collect the last of their belongings, and that would be it. He knew his mother would roll over in her grave, but Peter also knew he was going to sell the place as soon as he could. It was not—it would not ever be—a retreat for him.
When Peter did manage to sleep, he dreamt of Caroline. He dreamt she was somewhere in the cottage with him, rolling around blindly in her wheelchair, scratching against the walls. Her lips were bleeding, her eyes black as wrecked wood in the depths of the Saint Lawrence, and she was gradually, relentlessly, making her way toward his bedroom door. Closer, louder, Caroline’s wheels scraped against the hardwood floors until Peter woke up with a muted shout.
One more night, Peter thought. One more night and I can be out of this place.
It was not quite 11am and he was standing in the Ostermans’ kitchen, talking to Grace. He had slept less than two hours. At one point just before sunrise, he had dreamt of teenage Caroline, beautiful Caroline, leaning in to kiss him, tenderly brushing her lips against his chin, his jaw, his throat, before biting him—very softly, almost erotically—on the neck. Remembering his dream over breakfast, Peter had rushed into the bathroom to look in the mirror, scanning his throat, swallowing, looking for some sort of bite mark and finding none.
“The storm’s supposed to get pretty bad again tonight,” he said to Grace, who looked even more sleepless than he did. “Should we fix this leak or what?”
They spent the next hour trying to fix the leak together, until Grace volunteered to go up into the attic to check out the state of the carpentry.
That left Peter alone on the ground floor.
While Grace shuffled around in the attic above him, Peter grew increasingly uncomfortable. At the edge of the house’s silence, he had begun to notice something, a repetitive sound beneath the wind, like a broken vent. But it was not regular enough to be mechanical. It was someone breathing.
Still awaiting some sort of instruction from Grace, Peter inched up an unlit hallway, deeper into the Ostermans’ house. He remembered this corridor vaguely from his childhood, including a staircase at the end that led down, outside, to a path that wound around to the Ostermans’ boathouse.
Midway up the hall, he saw, Caroline’s empty wheelchair was placed beside a partially open door. That must be Caroline’s bedroom, he thought. And it was her that he could hear. Hyperventilating.
As he walked slowly toward the door, Peter’s mind raced. Had last night really been so bad? Had he not simply overreacted? It was just too little sleep—and far too much alcohol—clouding his judgment, making him panic when he should have been comforting. Peter realized this was his chance to find out, to see Caroline again and regain his own composure.
Besides, he told himself as he reached out and pushed open the door, it was out of concern for Caroline. Perhaps she needed help.
The darkness inside was so absolute, it took Peter several seconds to realize what he was seeing: not the bedroom itself but a black curtain hung inside the doorway as a further guarantee against encroaching daylight.
The breathing was far louder now, a low, animal panting. Heavy. Urgent.
Peter parted the curtain. The air beyond was humid, thick with a coppery, metallic smell that turned his stomach. For a second, Peter doubted himself. It was not too late to turn back, he knew; it was not too late to abandon this ill-thought plan.
“Caroline,” he whispered instead. “Caroline.”
The breathing stopped.
Peter reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone. He turned on the flashlight.
Caroline, he saw by the stark light of his cellphone, was lying in bed, her face contorted, eyes rolled so far up in her head they appeared to be closed. Her skin was pearlescent with blisters. Peter took another step forward and—hands shaking, light bouncing all over the room—saw that she was cuffed to the bed with medical restraints, not just her wrists but her feet.
She began sniffing, as if she smelled something new in the room. As if she smelled Peter.
Then her eyes rolled down and she turned her face toward Peter. She was looking directly at him. Her mouth began to open, her black tongue visible, and, in the shadows, her teeth—were her teeth—?
Caroline reached her arms out and the entire bed shook.
“Jesus!” Peter hissed.
He stumbled backward, entangling himself in the black curtain hung across the door. Wrapped up in its fabric, he fell. With a painful cracking sound, his elbow collided with the hardwood and he shouted, as much from pain as from terror. He had dropped his phone and the cone of light now shone straight upward. It was just enough to see Caroline, her mouth agape, eyes staring directly at him, pulling against her restraints.
On all fours, Peter grabbed his phone and scrambled out into the hallway—to see Grace standing above him, furious.
“You’re not supposed to go in there!” she shouted. She was shaking with anger—or perhaps it was fear. “Are you okay? What did she do to you?”
Grace crouched down and put her hands on either side of Peter’s face. “Let me see if you—if you hurt your neck,” she said. “You might have twisted it. Let me check your neck.”
Peter pushed her hands away. “Get the—get off me,” he spluttered. “Is she… Grace, why is she restrained like that. Is she a—is she—?” But, even then, he couldn’t bring himself to say it. This was real life, he told himself, not a horror novel. Caroline had an infection and nothing more. An exotic disease of the blood.
“What did she do?” Grace insisted.
“Nothing! Grace, I got—turned around in the curtain and got… tangled up. I tripped.”
In the ensuing silence, Peter realized exactly that: that Caroline was no longer hyperventilating. Instead, a deep rhythm of inhalation and exhalation was audible, an almost sexual breathing.
Grace closed the bedroom door.
“Maybe I should have left you two alone,” she said with a flash of anger. She had reached a state of exhaustion so extreme it appeared malevolent.
Peter climbed back to his feet. “Grace,” he said. “What is really wrong with Caroline? What does she have? What is it?”
But she said nothing. Peter hurried out of the house, all but running downhill in the rain.
Peter heard a knock at the front door, on the river side of the cottage, and he flinched.
It had been several hours since his chaotic visit to the Ostermans. He was nearly finished throwing the remainder of his parents’ things into boxes in a careless rush, with no mind any longer for sentimental value or even damage. It was time to go; it felt like an evacuation now, not a departure.
This was the last night of the storm and Peter knew that he would be gone at first light the next morning. The instant he could navigate the river safely, he would leave Grace and Caroline alone to—to recuperate from whatever this was, in whatever ways they needed to. But they would be doing so alone.
Then there was another knock, and another.
It was Grace. She was outside holding the bottle of whisky Peter had brought over the night before.
“Grace,” he said, and he opened the door halfway.
They stood there, Grace in her dark green coat in the afternoon rain, neither of them sure of what to say next. They both felt like they needed to apologize and so, of course, neither of them did.
“You helped a bit with the leak,” Grace began, “so… I thought we could have a drink. Go through your parents’ things. I said I would help.
Just one more night, Peter reminded himself. He stepped aside. “Come on in.”
Neither of them mentioned Caroline. Her daughter’s terrible illness was the last thing Grace wanted to think about and Peter wanted nothing more to do with the whole thing. Instead, they drank whisky—superb whisky that Peter’s father had owned, unopened, since the last time Peter was on the island ten years earlier—and they talked about work, about their own experiences on the island in the past, about Peter’s parents.
In a rare, whisky-induced moment of openness, Peter’s eyes teared up. They would never see this cottage again, he said. His parents would never see Summerland. He had been so ground down by needing to box things up, to locate property deeds, to clear out closets and drain pipes, that he had lost sight of the loss that had brought him here.
“It’s hard when things happen to your own family,” Grace replied. “When something… something you didn’t think could be real happens to you.” It was strangely phrased, but Peter nodded, glad for the consolation.
Grace refilled their glasses several times, clearly turning to drink for comfort and correctly assuming that Peter sought to do the same. It was only when she stood up to go the bathroom and nearly fell over that Peter realized how drunk they both had gotten. Grace navigated her way to the bathroom, gliding one hand woozily along the wall.
One more night, he kept telling himself. One more night and this will be over.
When Grace reappeared, she apologized for her tipsiness. She then looked outside, into the sky, and the horror of it all came back to him with a sick lurch: she was checking out the level of daylight.
The sun was nearly down.
Caroline would be awake soon.
“I better get back,” Grace said.
Peter offered her the rest of the whisky, but it came out so heavily slurred, Grace actually laughed. He just smiled back at her and held up his hands as if to say so what?
“It’s your father’s whisky,” she answered. “You should keep it. Savor it.” She looked down at the mostly empty bottle and her expression slightly changed. Something darker, harder, flashed across her face. “You’ll sleep well tonight,” she said.
The comment hung there like a threat. Had she gotten Peter drunk on purpose?
The atmosphere between them now unexpectedly awkward, Peter showed her to the front door. He watched as she began her way uphill in the waning daylight, back to her family’s house.
Back to another night with Caroline.
Peter collapsed onto his bed and looked at his cellphone. It was only 8pm. Grace had been gone for a few hours and he was, as predicted, beginning to fall asleep. The winds outside were picking up again, but it was nowhere near as violent as the night before. This storm really was going to end, Peter knew. He actually smiled. He really was going to get out off Summerland—and soon.
Peter’s cellphone still in his hand, the sudden sound of a phone ringing—an abrasive jangling bell—filled the cottage. Confused, Peter realized it was the landline, mounted on the wall next to the refrigerator.
The phone’s shrill clanging continued as Peter stumbled into the kitchen. He debated whether to answer it, then picked up.
“Peter!” Grace shouted before he could say anything. She seemed panicked. “There’s something—something’s wrong.” She was clearly using her cellphone; coverage was terrible on the island, even before the storm, and Grace’s voice faded in and out like a sound effect. “I was trying to… pills… her medication, but…” Her voice disappeared in static. “— attacked me… tried to bi—”
“Grace! Grace, are you okay? She bit you?”
Then he remembered something. The phone cord was just long enough that he could reach the boxes filled with his parents’ things in the front room. He went to one of them, pushed a few old pieces of clothing aside, and, packed among some sweaters, pulled out his father’s binoculars. Peter grabbed them and went back to the kitchen window.
“Grace?” he said again. There was too much noise coming through the phone line now, echoes on top of static. “Grace?”
Looking through the binoculars, Peter could see lights on inside the Ostermans’ house, but no movement. There was no sign of Grace, no sign of—
Someone stumbled past one of the windows. Peter realized with a gasp that it was Caroline. She was walking around inside the Ostermans’ house.
“I see her!” he shouted. “Grace?” There was no answer.
Through a clutter of sound, she finally replied. “I just—I locked myself in the bedroom, Peter. In Caroline’s bedroom.”
“Caroline’s out in the hall,” he said. “I can see her. Are you—”
The signal had dropped.
Peter hung up the phone. He stood there for a few terrible seconds, with no idea of what to do, then he threw on his rain coat and headed uphill.
Despite its size, the Ostermans’ house was no less vulnerable to the heavy winds. The storm might be dying, but every beam in the house still shuddered. To Peter, every creak sounded like a footstep, every groan a human voice.
Peter had come in through the Ostermans’ unlocked back door, where he stopped. He was listening, alert to any movement in the rooms around him. He heard the drip again, still unfixed, and the rattle of the house’s winter shutters.
On a wall near the door he saw a large mirror and, below that, a shelf for random knick-knacks. A handful of framed photos stood there, most of them featuring Caroline. As Peter looked at them, he noticed in the mirror that Caroline’s empty wheelchair sat just up the hallway behind him.
He picked up one of the pictures, framed in cheap black plastic, and studied it. The photo of Caroline in a polo shirt, standing outside in the sun, holding an oar in one hand, was a dramatic reminder of just how rapidly things had changed for her, this formerly long-limbed, athletic teenager rendered monstrous and mute by a mysterious disease. By, Peter thought, whatever this infection really was.
As he was moved to put the photo back on the shelf, he heard a shuffling sound behind him.
Peter turned, surprised to see Caroline standing just a few feet beyond her wheelchair. He had been focused on the photo, he knew, but he had seen no movement in the mirror.
Caroline seemed oblivious to his presence. She was walking—limping—down the hall, heading for the blacked-out living room.
Peter quietly stepped backward, further into the Ostermans’ kitchen, watching as Caroline’s grey t-shirt disappeared into the black room beyond. He noticed a head of garlic on the counter, and without even thinking, grabbed it, shoving it in his rain coat pocket. Then, in the sink, he saw a kitchen knife. Without any clear idea of what he was doing, he picked that up, too, and continued after Caroline.
Peter had no more use for darkness. Knife in one hand, he took out his cellphone and turned on its light. Instantly, he saw he was surrounded by cloth-covered antiques, all of which looked like Caroline in her oversize t-shirt. He nearly screamed.
Breathing so hard he thought he might pass out, he made his way back to the hallway that led to Caroline’s bedroom, edging his way through the maze of shrouded furniture, listening to the steady drip of the roof leak.
Caroline loomed there in the center of the hall. She had been staring down at the door to her bedroom, but her head snapped around at the sight of Peter’s phone light.
“Caroline!” he called out, then, “Grace! Are you still in there? Grace, are you okay?”
“Peter!” he heard her shout. “I’m fine—is she still—”
“Caroline,” Peter continued, “we need to get you back in your wheelchair. You shouldn’t be up. You might hurt yourself.” He was holding the knife behind him, tightening his grip as he spoke.
She began limping toward him, her black eyes empty, jaw grinding. Caroline’s white skin was glossy with sweat, though its near-translucent pallor made her look like she was freezing.
Peter yelled at her to stop, but she was soon so close she could reach out to grab him. His tried to dodge her, to slip past her and go further up the hall, determined to help protect Grace, but Caroline’s awkward, limping posture meant that Peter caught himself on one of her legs. He stumbled forward and nearly recovered, but then lost his balance in the darkness and fell. The kitchen knife clattered a few feet away.
He stared at it, panicked—and Caroline fell atop him.
At some point in the ensuing struggle, Peter holding both his arms out to keep Caroline at bay, her relentless forward energy sliding them both along the hall, toward the house’s back staircase, Grace emerged. She screamed for them to stop, screaming at Peter, screaming at the unbearable agony of all of this, at the malignance of Caroline’s disease, at Grace’s own terrible sense of powerlessness.
And then Peter could feel it. He could hear it in the sound of Caroline’s quiet growling, a slight change in the conflict, and he knew that Grace had begun pulling them apart. Grace had come to his rescue, after all—
Wait a minute, he thought. Caroline was actually getting closer. Someone was pulling on his left arm now—
Grace was fighting him, not Caroline.
“Peter,” she cried, barely able to get the words out, “stop it. Please! You’re hurting her—”
Grace was protecting Caroline.
“Grace!” Peter roared. “ Jesus—” He was struggling with them both now. “Jesus Christ, Grace—she’s attacking me. Grace!”
Already flooded with adrenaline but now amplified by confusion and rage, Peter grabbed ahold of Grace’s shoulder and pulled, hard, heaving her over him entirely, as if to flip her onto the floor behind his head. But, while wrestling, they had pushed much further up the hall than he thought, to the top of the back staircase. With a sad whimper, Grace scrambled to grab onto the banister and failed. She rolled down the staircase with an excruciating series of bangs, tumbling all the way to the bottom where she slammed against the door.
She let out a sigh—then silence.
Caroline now fought all the harder, grabbing at Peter’s rain coat, his shoulder, his very hair, tearing at his scalp, pulling herself closer to him. She was snapping her jaws and making a terrible moaning sound, somewhere between pain and sexual pleasure.
Peter held his hands up to protect himself, pushing at her chest and throat, his hands slipping on what must be her saliva. As he lost his grip, she fell toward him, and he felt a terrible pinching in his forearm, as if being punctured by needles.
She was biting him.
Peter used all of his remaining strength to roll to one side, snapping Caroline’s head against the paneled wall. Rocked by the impact, she let go.
His arm burning, Peter kicked himself along the floor just far enough to find the kitchen knife.
“Caroline,” he howled. “Just stop. Stop!” His hand squeezed the handle of the knife so hard he thought his knuckles might break.
But as Caroline lunged for him once again, Peter slammed the knife deep into her chest.
It was still dark out as Peter pulled one of the dust cloths off the antiques to cover Caroline’s body. At the bottom of the stairs, Grace’s neck was clearly broken, her head cracked against the stairs as she fell. She was a grotesque jumble of awkwardly angled limbs. Her eyes, Peter saw, were still open, staring up, as if still watching out for what he might do to Caroline. Still protective, still motherly, even in the afterlife.
Numb, Peter checked the clock in the kitchen. There were still roughly forty-five minutes before the sun was up. The wind had died down almost entirely now and he could even make out stars on the horizon. The clouds were beginning to clear.
Peter knew he would have to call the police; he would have to report this. He couldn’t simply jump into his family’s boat and flee the island behind, no matter how frantically he wanted to.
The scratches on his arm and face where Caroline had attacked him still stung, and the mark on his forearm where she bit him was now on fire with pain. Peter ran the wound under the kitchen tap for several minutes, watching as his own and Caroline’s blood spiraled into the drain like entwined serpents. He would have to go to the hospital. He would have to get tested—but for what?
After a glass of water, Peter took out his cellphone. He called the local police, just upriver in the town of Alexandria Bay. He identified himself, said he was on Summerland, and then he gave them the best description he could think of that fit the truth: he had been defending himself against a woman driven mad by some kind of blood disease. Her mother had joined in to protect her. It was self-defense. Yes, he said, he was in the Ostermans’ house—no, he said, they attacked him.
“She bit me,” he added quietly.
“Wait—the victim bit you?” the officer replied.
As they spoke, Peter remembered the head of garlic in his rain coat pocket, and he nearly gagged. The very thought of it nauseated him. It brought back memories of fighting Caroline, or it—it—
Peter didn’t want to think about why. He dropped the garlic in the kitchen trash.
“I covered their bodies,” Peter replied. “I’ll just wait for you outside.”
It took the police nearly an hour to get there. By the time they arrived, the sun had cracked the horizon, a clear dawn creeping over the landscape. The only indication that there had been a storm at all was the downed branches, even whole trees, floating by in the swollen river.
Peter, covered in blood, was an alarming sight for a local police force unaccustomed to much worse than drunk drivers and the occasional shoplifting call, and they insisted on handcuffing him to the Ostermans’ boathouse railing while they went inside. Peter told them where to find Grace and Caroline, then waited, patiently, his heart rate surprisingly high as the gravity of the situation became clear. He could be spending the rest of his life in prison. He needed to breathe. To stay calm.
As Peter sat in the growing sunlight, he tried to picture himself finally heading home to the city, reminding himself that he would sell the cottage, ridding himself entirely of this disastrous place. But his heart continued to pound, and, no matter how many times he tried to swallow, his throat began to feel constricted. It wasn’t long before the morning heat got to him, unbearably so.
Peter saw a thermostat on the side of the Ostermans’ boathouse and looked over. It must be 100º out, he thought, a final, unwelcome blast of heat and humidity.
The thermostat said 75º. Peter flinched—it had to be broken. He began breathing heavier, almost panting. My God, he thought. He would have to ask the police to move him, to get him out of the sun, to give him a drink of water. Anything.
As if on cue, one of the officers came walking down the stairs. The man’s face was pale, his jaw set in a grimace. One hand was hovering nervously near his handgun.
“Sir,” the officer said, but then he hesitated, staring at Peter with a strange look on his face.
Peter didn’t understand what the man could be looking at. He glanced down at himself and saw it: there were little blisters appearing on his skin, on the backs of his hands and forearms. They were pale white and shaped like pills. Pearlescent.
“Sir,” the cop said again, ignoring the blisters but paying attention now to the uncomfortable, even desperate look on Peter’s face, as if Peter had just come to some terrible realization. “Sir, why exactly were you in the Ostermans’ house?”
But Peter could no longer hear the man. His ears were ringing, his throat so constricted he was nearly hyperventilating. He leaned forward to hide his face against the scalding heat of the sun.