Despite the sharp cold, the water was not deep—my good fortune. And even better fortune? Moments after I hit the water and heard the splash beside me, I heard Harriet’s cry: “Vickie! Are you there? Vickie!” She’d been catapulted overboard, too.
I answered, and we quickly found each other in the dark and the cold, my hand gripping hers with a grateful fierceness. “We’re close to the shore,” I said. “Just wade forward.” She mumbled a reply. Behind us, we could hear voices from the Don Juan.
“We hit a *** rock!”
“Let’s head back … we don’t want to sink out here.”
“Where are those two stupid girls?”
“They probably ran below.”
And we heard the Don Juan pull away, its revving engines drowning out our feeble cries for help.
My headache, still raging, seemed it would crack my head open like a walnut, but holding Harriet’s hand did have a calming effect. We splashed to the shore and noticed immediately the shrieks of the cormorants and the biting odor of their droppings. And then the rain began—a piercing freezing rain that felt like shards of glass hitting our heads and skin. “Let’s try for the old lighthouse,” I said. “It should be straight ahead, on the opposite side of the island.”
“Clear across the island!” Harriet cried. “We’ll never—”
“It’s not that far,” I said. “Only about a quarter-mile across—like a couple of blocks at home.”
Harriet mumbled. And we stumbled into the foul-smelling woods, our only good fortune being a strange light in the air once we got away from the shore. I warned Harriet to be on the lookout for caves and cenotes.[i]
“What’s a cenote?”
“Like a sinkhole,” I said. “Filled with water. There are some here—I read about them.” I felt Harriet slow beside me.
As we moved farther inland, shivering and frightened, I could feel the air brightening, my headache weakening. But the glassy rain still seemed to want to shred us. And then, just ahead, I could see through the trees the silhouette of the ruins. We were approaching from the back of the old stone structure. When it was new—in 1864—it was a large stone house, with the stone tower attached in the front, facing the lake. But now—abandoned since 1926—it was falling in on itself. Collapsing like a bad plan.
We increased our speed and entered the ruin. And the moment we did so, the cormorants went silent, the rain stopped. And all the sounds in the world had fallen away. What remained? A reeking, death-like smell, far worse than what the cormorant droppings could possibly have caused.
“What are we going to do?” Harriet whispered.
“I guess we wait to make sure the rain’s stopped, then head back to the shore and try to signal a boat. I don’t see what else we can do.”
We moved to the front of the building, to the old tower where the light had warned sailors for many years.
“That’s strange,” I said, looking at the stairs.
“These steps have been repaired recently,” I said.
And then we heard the awful sound from above.