The Wandering Island Factory (10 page)

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
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[Chapter 19]

Moonlight under a clear winter sky was spectacular. The northern lights that nearly extended to the equator only added to the magic of the moment. He leaned back in the lawn chair set up on the roof of the metal box. Winter should have been unbearable, but 'global warming' had its advantages too. The bitter cold nights reached down to a frigid sixty-one degrees. Hardly worth dressing up for.

The radio played in the control room just loud enough to be heard over the gentle waves and the swishing of hydraulic fluid in the tidal generator.

They were in the long pause of commercials, but didn't seem to mind. Gina looked at him, smiled, then returned her gaze up at the glowing green sky. "The end of the world comes with one hell of a light show."

"Not the end," Jason said while the ad for personal windmills ran. '. . . with a crippled grid and failing infrastructure, waiting on the government to restore power is like waiting for the moon to make more cheese. Get your own personal windmill, powerful enough to run most common 120-volt appliances. Have it assembled on your site within 60 days of ordering. We accept most trades.'

"Have you noticed they keep leaving the price of things out of the ads?"

"Yeah. That doesn't bode well for the grand I had left in cash when I closed out my accounts. Maybe it isn't worth anything anymore. Trade. Sounds like we should keep fishing for junk to me."

She reached over from her lounge chair and held his hand. "Isn't it ironing that we keep catching fishing nets in the fishing net, and caught two dozen fishing poles last week, but no fish?"

He did find it ironic, but not alarming. "The fish seem to be able to avoid the net, for some reason. Like the currents aren't right to keep them entangled anymore. Maybe we're not using it right, who knows. But it isn't like we've been going without food. You and Ava still catch one or two a day on a pole. You checked the back recently? We've got enough kelp to last a few years, and enough dried fish to last at least as long."

"I'm getting a little excited about making a run for land. Current dropped another five knots in the last week. I just hope that we have some favorable winds."

"It's been months since we even tried to open the parasail. You know, with the strong tide, we could always drift fast enough to inflate it and get it high enough to get traction. If it stays calm, like it is now, we may never get it off the ground."

She sat up, adjusted the towel she was using as a comforter, then leaned back again. "It's a long way to try to row. You know, the little generator on the stern is just a modified trolling motor. We could modify it back and just use the tidal to recharge the batteries. It may be good for five or ten knots a day, as long as it doesn't have to fight the current. I haven't checked, but sailboats this size usually have a few trolling motors for positioning in and out of docks."

She was surprisingly smart. He had forgotten all about them. They were tiny thrusting, electric motors, designed for maneuvering in close, where the sail was for the open sea. "I forgot all about that. I must be getting dumber the longer you know me."

"Batteries won't last long with them. This is way more boat than they were designed for, but, if we can't get the sail up, then we're still not out of luck."

The theme music for the show started again, and they listened to more stories of the strange. Several psychics were scheduled, and two witches were earmarked for the last hour to close out the show.

By February, winter in the metal box had completely lost its charm. Daytime temperatures hovered around the fifties, and the metal box was unheated. Living in Hawaii had left them without any winter clothes, even heavy blankets or a simple quilt were nonexistent. The best they had were layers of clothes, bed sheets, and some emergency thermal blankets. The emergency blankets looked like the same Mylar that helium balloons used, and were reflective like aluminum, but as noisy as a cat playing with a plastic bag. Everyone was miserable and nobody was getting much sleep.

Jason checked the equipment and noted the wind speed before sneezing into his hand, then wiping his hand on his jeans. It was the strongest gusts they had had in months. He pulled up the anchor and allowed the boat to drift in the current while he struggled to manually ready the sail.

The fabric whipped as it slapped the sides of the rigging, a cross breeze slammed it like a glove across the cabin as the tips dipped into the ocean before the craft righted itself. The sail filled like a magician pulling an elephant out of a hat, then leapt like a lion a hundred feet up, spun, then nose-dived for the ocean. Jason flipped the electric power assist back on and managed to avert disaster by steering it back into the sky. The first few minutes were always the worst, and twilight didn't make it any easier.

He let the spools reel out as the parasail soared two, three, then four hundred feet into the air, before he started locking them in. He turned off the power assist, then turned the lights on dim again as he practiced his figure eights.

Nathan stuck his head into the tiny room, "We good?"

"Yeah, it's up, the tension on the lines reads good," Jason said, struggling with the manual controls. He was badly out of shape.

"Want me to finish bringing up the anchor?"

"Yeah, but, the—" he fought off another near crash, "the steering seems sluggish. Like it's dragging something other than just the anchor."

Nathan paused. "That tidal crap is still in the water. That stuff probably isn't helping any. Like some kid dangling an oar in the water while you're trying to row."

"Yeah, that feels about right. Any chance you can pull it out of the water without destroying it? "

He laughed, "Not a chance." Nathan leaned against the door, "It's bolted and tied ten ways to Sunday."

"Guess I'm just going to have to adapt, huh."

Nathan slapped him on the shoulder, then left to wrestle the anchor the rest of the way up.

After a few minutes, Gina stuck her head into the tiny room. "Where you headed now?"

"I didn't really have a plan. The winds came up, so I took a chance. It paid off, and I just didn't think it any further than that."

She checked the compass, the GPS, then the open map. "North, and drift a little west. If we can make it about sixty knots, there's what should be. . . Well, there used to be some swanky mansions built up into the hills. And a little cove, see there? That should give you more protection from the currents, and we might even be able to put it in somewhere around there.

Can't aim for an old port, they're all built up with industrial centers, toxic waste, and flooded buildings and such. We have to aim for the snooty Richie Riches that liked seclusion and large swaths of land all to themselves." She tapped an area shaded in green. "The kind that push to have the land around them declared national parks so the government pays to keep everyone else out."

The GPS was iffy this far from land. "We should go past it to the north, then drift back into it, right?"

"Worth a try. Just, uh, keep the lights down low so we don't attract the coastguard again." Gina said, finding a spot inside the cabin to get comfortable.

"I think they have radar and stuff."

"Well, leave the lights down low anyway. Just enough to keep from crashing it."

He flipped the lights off, completely. "The angles on the guidelines give me a good enough warning to keep it out of the water. I, uh, had way too much time to practice one night. You really get a good feel for it, after a while." The boat felt like a car with two flat tires on the passenger side. It required more over-steering than he would have preferred, but just like riding on rims, it was manageable. "The crosscurrent reads as low as ten knots. Still swift, but if we have good visibility and get the angles right, I should be able to park this thing somewhere."

Gina stayed in the cold little cabin. "Might not need to. We have a canoe now, and a very long rope."

It was cold in the tiny room, but somehow warmer with her in it. Besides, she was his relief if he needed a break. She might as well stay up there and be on hand. He never minded her company.

She fiddled with the radio. They were three hours away from their late night voice in the dark, but after the sun went down was when reception really picked up. On the same frequency, at about this time of day, was an angry host who talked politics, which made the station easy to find, but hard to stomach.

She found his angry, impatient voice, then turned the volume down as she checked the compass, then the GPS again. "More west, if you can."

"I'm trying, but it drifts east because of the—"

She put her arm around him, "I know." Then adjusted the dry towel like it was a throw blanket.

"You know, if we put ashore, we can't just go south to get warm again. We have to try to keep warm some other way."

"Well, according to the radio, they don't expect freezing weather in the lower forty-eight. It might not be pleasant, but it'll be—"

"The experts also said global warming was from CO2. Destroyed the economies of several countries fighting it. Knowing my luck, we'll put ashore just in time to have a George Washington winter where it gets cold enough to freeze over the Delaware."

"I don't know," she hugged him again. "You're luck doesn't seem all that bad to me. Got this boat. This, ugly, ugly, squared off pile or recycled junk for a car and some cash, right when the price was at their lowest because nobody wanted them. Talked us into leaving the islands just in time, whether we knew it then or not. We survived a category one without a problem." She kissed him on the cheek, "Not so bad, as far as bad luck goes."

[Chapter 20]

It took them three days to limp far enough north to find the cove she was talking about. Early in the morning, they headed in.

Visibility was good, and Gina was able to keep the 'high cliffs' in site through the binoculars as Jason sailed the boat in. Of course, the cliffs were now gentle hills on the waterfront, but they were easy to spot with the help of GPS. Fortunately, they encountered no resistance from the coastguard and were, after fighting a difficult, but manageable current, able to anchor the boat inside the protection of the cove. The currents inside the cove were minimal, as predicted, but just during low tide.

They had cautiously anchored in the middle of the cove, which put the shore beyond the reach of their longest ropes. The sail had been down for days, and inside the cove, the wind was so minimal that they knew they could never deploy it again.

The trolling motors could be used to get them closer to shore, but they risked getting the anchor caught on junk that would naturally accumulate after such a disaster.

The plan had been to canoe to shore while dragging their longest rope for safety. But their longest rope wasn't long enough. Which meant they had to study the patterns, chart the tides, and time any canoe trips precisely.

Low tide was looking like their best option. The currents pushed the boat toward shore as low tide swelled to high tide, and only tried to pull the boat back out to sea as high tide fell back down again. It also seemed calmest during the morning hours. So, combining the two after just a week of study, they prepared to embark on their first canoe excursion.

"No!" Ava screamed with a pout, "I don't want to wait on the boat! I want to go ashore too!"

"Well, someone has to stay on the boat—" Makayla said.

"Why?" Ava demanded as Nathan and Jason put the canoe in the water and prepared to get underway.

"I'm staying," Gina said, "because someone has to be on the boat that can work the trolling motors in case they need to be rescued."

"That explains why YOU can't go, not me!" Ava said, stomping her foot again. "That canoe is big enough for one more!"

"Only two oars," Makayla offered.

"So? It seats three, three should go!" Ava said, "It isn't like it suddenly gets harder to row with an extra person."

"Actually, it does—" Gina said.

"Don't you see what they're doing? The guys get to go but us women have to mind the house until they come back! What is this, the 1820s?"

"Let her come if she wants to so bad," Jason yelled after Nathan took his position in the nose of the canoe.

"I don't want her going," Nathan said, smacking the water with his oar.

Jason looked at the depressed boy, then said in a quiet voice, "She may be difficult now, but she's going to be impossible when we come back. Especially after stewing like that for a few hours. It isn't like she's going to add much weight, we've all been on a fish diet for months. I haven't been this skinny since middle school."

The three pulled onto shore after a lot of tiresome paddling, then carried the canoe uphill and tied it to a tree, just in case.

"The closest mansion is just over there," Jason said, "Maybe a five mile hike." He turned on the GPS, then checked his cell phone for a signal. "I wish we had an ATV or a golf cart."

Nathan rubbed his arms and stamped his feet, "I'd settle for some warm clothes."

They started to march.

The mansion, if it ever was, appeared abandoned and seemed to have suffered from the storm. Most windows were broken, roofing shingles and loose papers littered the overgrown yard. They made their way to the front door and simply knocked and shouted 'Hello' in the windows.

Nobody answered, naturally.

The door was dead bolted, so they entered through a window. Well, Nathan did and let the rest in through the door.

Water had damaged the floors by the windows and most of the nearby walls, but the furniture looked to be antiques and seemed to be holding up fine. As exciting as it was to wander through an abandoned house, even in this much disrepair, he still felt deeply out-of-place and kept looking over his shoulder for the police to cuff him and take him away. "They still shoot looters, don't they?" he said as he passed the ornate, golden mirror, then checked the phone for a dial tone.

Ava screamed from upstairs, and the two boys dropped everything to run to the rescue.

"What is it?" Jason yelled.

"What's wrong?" Nathan said, turning the other corner.

Jason entered the room first.

Ava almost collided with him, her hand over her chest on the way out, "I found. . . I found. . . " but she pushed past him and ran down the hall.

Four bodies were bound and stuffed next to the bathroom. All shot and obviously dead for months. "Uhgh!" Jason said, walking over to them, then walking out the door. Still feeling guilty and thinking of the police, "Did anyone touch anything?"

"Yeah, sure," Nathan said while Ava simply nodded.

"Me too. We could all be implicated in this. We, we can't stay here—"

"No shit!" Ava said.

"We should bury them," Nathan added.

"I don't know," Jason said, "maybe we should burn the house, get rid of the fingerprints and our DNA and CSI stuff."

Ava looked horrified, "That doesn't seem right to just leave them lie while the house burns down around them. They should be buried. I would want to be."

"I'm not touching them," Nathan said. "No way. I like the idea of burning it. Light a match and go, that's the way."

Ava was outvoted. "We should see what Momma and Gina think."

"We should still look for some clothing, blankets, canned food, towels and shampoo and stuff," Jason said. "I mean, this thing looks like a robbery or simple looting. Looks like they were looking for money. I mean, this place doesn't look ransacked, so, I think money or a safe or cars or something was all the killers wanted, not just a random burglary. Any-what-way, food and clothing should still be around. No burglar steals that crap."

After calming down, they continued to search and found another room with additional bodies, most likely the staff. But much less tragically and more importantly, they found plenty of warm blankets, clothes, and other useful, small items that they bagged and carried down to the canoe. A dirt bike and two lawnmowers were left in the garage.

The three stayed in the mansion that night, mostly without a choice because of the tide and bitter cold. It felt haunted and dripping with the evil that had occurred in it. None of them slept a wink.

At the next low tide the following morning, Jason and Nathan canoed back to the boat, leaving a very unhappy Ava at the shore since there wasn't enough room for all three and the cargo.

While the tide was low and the boys still had the energy, they made three more round trips, the last of which to retrieve the pouty girl.

They gathered around the picnic table under the tarp for lunch near high tide.

"Murders?" the mother repeated.

"Murders," Jason said, "and our fingerprints are all over that place. We left all the really nice stuff, some amazing dresses and furs that were—"

Gina was still hungry, but couldn't finish her plate, "We wouldn't look right in silks and furs anyway. Servants' clothes seems a better fit. Horrible that they're all dead, though."

Nathan looked at his mom, then back at his sisters, "I think. . . Jason and I think we should burn it, with the bodies still in it. Kind of a cremation, if nothing else to get rid of the fingerprints. They'll blame us if anyone investigates. Might even get shot for looting, if anything gets traced back to here."

"I don't like it at all," Makayla said, shaking her head, "it doesn't seem proper for folks to be burned down in their home after being murdered like that."

Gina pushed her plate away, "I don't see another, better alternative. We can't bury them without loading up the grave with all sorts of DNA. Don't know any names, got no coffins; it's just a huge shame, all the way around."

"They had two lawnmowers," Jason said, "thought they might be of some use. Pull the motors, grab some tools out of the garage. The tanks looked full, and they had a nice dirt bike that we could use next time we put ashore."

Gina looked upset again. "You thinking we should pull out of the cove?"

"Oh yeah," Jason said. "We need to put a lot of miles between us and this place. Spend as little time here as possible. Especially if we burn the building. We need to come up with some sort of delay device, preferably one that starts the fire a few days after we're gone. They have three large propane tanks around the back that seemed heavy and full. Gas range or oven looked like the easiest place to start something, maybe when you take a look something will—"

Gina stood up, "Oh, hell no! Ain't no way I'm walking around in that graveyard. I don't know how any of you even managed to spend the night in a haunted house like that."

Jason stood too. "Alright, alright! Nobody is saying you have to. I'll figure something—"

"Damn right you will," Gina said, "ain't none of my fingerprints anywhere near that place."

Jason gestured as he sat back down, "No, but your brother and sister's are all over it. Mine too."

Gina refused to set foot in the mansion, but she did take a trip to shore to help salvage the two lawnmowers. The motors were very useful, as were the gas tanks, batteries, and gearboxes. The zero-radios mower even came with power steering and hydraulic motors, which may come in handy should any of that kind of equipment fail on the boat.

The gas water heater turned out to be the easiest to rig to explode. Jason and Nathan moved the propane tanks inside, then drained most of the water from the heater and added a gallon of gas and relit the pilot. The gasoline should vaporize after a few days, then escape through the over-pressure vent that had been redirected. It might even take it a week, Gina couldn't accurately guess.

They also left one of the tanks with a slow leak in the cramped little water closet.

Back on the boat, they pulled the anchor and drifted out with the tide, using the changed batteries to keep them from running ashore and the GPS from accidentally running aground on some submerged beach town.

Two new laptops and a ton of video games were a goldmine for Ava and Nathan, even knowing children's bodies were among the dead. The laptops could probably be traced back to the mansion, but it didn't seem likely, and they took the precaution of removing the ID numbers from the cases anyway. Neither had password protection, or even seemed to be registered.

The first good wind they caught, they deployed the sail and headed west and south for the winter, not daring to try the shore again so soon.

Besides, now they had a mansion's worth of provisions from when they raided the kitchen.

BOOK: The Wandering Island Factory
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