As our school years continued, the events of the third grade eventually faded from our conversations. In some ways, it was just so strange—what I saw on Middle Island, what we all saw—that it couldn’t say alive for long. People want things to be normal. Explainable. It’s how we get through the strangeness of life, by focusing on the normal, the everyday, the expected, the usual. So we force the abnormal to retreat—to hide, not disappear. For despite our fierce effort to ignore and conceal them, things do come back. Especially the strange ones. And the dangerous ones.
The adults did not tell us much about what had been going on there on Middle Island. Father told me only that Dr. Eastbrook had been working there in a hidden laboratory, in the woods, underground. He came out only at night, when it was safer because the island was “closed” to visitors after sundown. He would slip across the bridge back to St. Mary’s, where he’d stored a car in a rented garage, and he’d drive over to Marietta or some other small town to get the supplies he needed, trying not to shop in the same places too often—not even get gas at the same station—so that he would not arouse too much curiosity among the local residents. In St. Mary’s, it seems, virtually no one had ever even seen him.
Father would not tell me what his experiments involved. But I was starting to figure some things out. He must have been doing something illegal—otherwise, why all the secrecy? Also—and this was the disturbing part—his experiments must have involved the bodies of animals, the remains of people.
When I got a little older, in fifth grade, I read The Island of Doctor Moreau, a novel by H. G. Wells, who also wrote The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.[i] I turned pages eagerly, reading about a shipwrecked man, Edward Prendick, who finds himself arriving at an island, an island occupied by Dr. Moreau, the man who has rescued Edward at sea. When he lands, he’s surprised to see odd-looking creatures. He hears strange cries of unknown animals, at all times of day. Later, in the woods one day, he sees a … man? But is it? Wells describes it as a “grotesque, half-bestial creature.” Even later, Edward sees more of them.
Well, of course, he learns that Moreau has been conducting experiments. Fusing animals and people—the “beast folk,” they’re called. Horrified, he later manages to sail away in a small boat—though his rescuers refuse to believe his story.
And while I was reading that book, how could I not think about Middle Island? And Dr. Eastbrook? And, of course, Blue Boyle.