Pg. 49 — SWAN ISLAND by Tracy Lyall
What’s on Swan Island?
There are no swans, only remnants of colonization, island shaped parallels between the few remaining natives and those who relocated. Volcanic interface and barriers of nature, the ancient stones are thousands and thousands of years old. Fresh soil, silent streets, lonely hearts, and old bungalows. One grocery store, gas station, farm stand, blazing fires beneath the feet, and dirty fingernails of those who tend the local farms.
There is a burnt down hotel and history of the twins who lived there with the beds they shared. Their family lineage of Scottish Highlanders and European escape artists. The tuck of the sheets from the employees, the fold back, and the hair they pulled from the drain after they moved out and moved on. Long red hairs like violin strings. As the record player in the lobby always spinning with a soft lullaby their mother used to calm them, soothe them to tranquility. The creak of the floor vibrates at midnight, songs similar to the lush green fields, similar to the music of the crickets and nocturnals. Their beady eyes hanging in trees.
There were the stains they left along the razor’s edge. We always forget what we’re running from until we face it. The buzz of the mill a mile away echoes in the sunset. The grind of saw, crunch of broken woods and depth of the darkness in the woods behind the mill thicker than mud. Sticky wet moss. As if they could reach something more in life, the twins dig into the pines, pulling out a heart of sap, of amber hardening in the salty and chilling waters which wash ashore. A warmth of goo; as a newborn babe warmed from the womb, held close to the chest. Like a stillbirth, it’s slow bluing, it’s near chill lifeless. The tiny fingers of rubber, tiny toes as a cousin. Remembering when they waited in the backseat of the sedan, waited for Nana in the parking lot, waited for Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Waited to scream.
She wore a mint green toddler dress, lace socks in a fold, and white shoes. She waited for the fire to dwindle in the distance. Purple sun dying beyond the hills, haze of summer heat and a starry ozone. A paper doll universe where the shirt flaps fold over the edges.
There were rumors.
A local journalist claims he saw aliens that evening. Two goats, one fire, and an unidentified flying object. There were claims the government sells them for technological advancement. Word on the streets is that one of the twins lost her virginity at thirteen, just before her birthday. An icy winter, one could hear the splash of the ocean and clank of the boats against the old wooden dock piles. Their barnacle surface traces back decades.
The twins grew up angry at the skies, feared the opening of the universe, as if it split in two and they’d drown in a bottomless pit with no breath and a crush of the lungs, a snap of the bottom rib. Only the girl, Lany, cries as she is the youngest. Her brother, Bud, took up self-defense: guns, knives, and survival gear. He awoke at 2 a.m. setting booby traps with strings, live wires, and water. Everything strategically placed and noted each day. A chronicle to worry, survival, and budding youth. Bud told Lany he’d protect her. But nightfall came every night and the shadows never left the ceiling.
In the summer, their bedroom window slightly cracked for a late-night breeze, the scent of garden, and ivy growing on the brick house. Once Lany could swear she saw long bony fingers crawl beneath. It was the summer of 1995, when the hotel caught fire the first time. The back door, the kitchen ladle, the horse stable a hundred yards away. A strange creature washed ashore that night, a hairless pig-dog thing with haunches of a horse; a secret research experiment.
Lany said it was the way the lighthouse scanned the ocean, like a searchlight from the deep, from the Bermuda unknown. The Bermuda triangle of disappearance. She twitched, fainted, lost a moment of time and the sparkler touched a dry bush on the west wing. As the blaze drew in the gas stove, an explosion like a bomb. (No tourists were harmed, only startled.) Journalists came for the fire. Scientists stayed for the creature, the entire town now a ripple effect, shut off from the rest of the world. Their family moved away as government trucks moved in to bury their loss, pay the remaining residents hush money, and sending the journalists away.
Thirty years later, Lany stumbles across a photo in a thrift store, a young girl in a mint green dress walking with ducks along a pond in the piney trees, ash on her forehead and fingers. The day she supposedly disappeared for three hours. And now she stands, staring at this lost moment in time, wondering who took the photograph.