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Ghost Mountain Island

Murder Mystery
by C ol i n W i n n e t t e

 W

e won the tickets and
were not to be taxed so there
was little debate over whether
or not we would go to the island.

“It’s a contest,” they said, “and you’ve
won!”
That felt good. We were proud of one
another and happy for an exciting
change.
We were told we would be taken
care of so we did not pack much but
a few magazines and books and an
extra pair of tennis shoes each. We
were concerned there would be some
physical element we were unprepared
for.
“You have the opportunity to extend
your stay and cash in on bonus prizes,”
they said.
We liked that it was an opportunity,
not a requirement.
“Why is the island called Ghost Mountain Island?” we asked.
“Everything you need to know is in the
literature,” they said.

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On the ferry ride over, we shared a
colada and read through the literature.

“We need to know more about that,”
said my wife.

It was called Ghost Mountain Island
because it was an island with a
mountain at center that was rumored
to be haunted.

“Every week you’ll discover a clue. If
you can solve the mystery, you can stay
as long as you like. Otherwise the boat
will be back for you in thirty days.”

My wife is fond of the idea of ghosts,
though it frightens her. I have little
interest in ghosts other than their
potential effects on my wife, who is
sometimes noticeably nervous and
anxious and other times nervous and
anxious in ways I cannot measure or
detect.

“Four clues in all,” said my wife. “But
what kind of mystery is the mystery?”

There was nothing in the
literature about the bonus
prizes or the opportunity to
extend our stay.

It was clear from the very first night
that the island was not entirely our
island but also the ghost’s island and
we had to respect that.

“Four clues in all,” said
my wife. “But what kind of
mystery is the mystery?”

The island was very plain with
a mountain at center. The beach
was clean and lined with manicured
palm trees. As you moved from the
water the trees grew dense, giving way
to cliffs of jagged rock.

My wife and I had nightmares and
every now and then the beach would
become blood and soak our feet and
dot our calves.

“This island is your island,” they said,
“for thirty days, unless you choose to
extend your stay.”

Each thing the ghost did went away
eventually, but it all took an emotional
toll.

My wife was happy to know that
ghosts were real and that there was
more to life than we expected in a way
that made sense to her.
“I get this,” she said. “Ghosts have
always made sense to me.”
We drank a lot of coladas to get over
the emotional trauma brought on by
the ghost.
We called it, “Hard Island Living.”
“He’s fucking with us,” I said.
“The ghost.”
I was covered in snakes and trying not
to move.
“Don’t move,” said my wife.
“I’m trying not to,” I said.
“It isn’t real,” she said.

“But we were happy for a change,” I
said. “And you were excited about the
ghosts.”
“I don’t want to argue,” she said.
The first clue was a wooden cane
wrapped in plastic. It was in a log that
appeared suddenly on the beach one
morning.
“I have no idea what this could mean,”
said my wife, turning the cane in her
hands.
Neither did I.
“I wouldn’t want to solve it anyway,”
said my wife, “because I don’t want to
stay.”
“But what about the prizes?”
“They could be anything,” said my wife.

One of the snakes bit me on the leg but
I could not see which snake it was.

We put a note inside the plastic
wrapping and put that in the log and
set it back out to sea.

I could feel that I was bleeding from
the snakebite and I said,

“So far,” read the note, “we are undecided
about the mystery.”

“When these snakes disappear we need
to treat this snakebite and we’ll need
to do it carefully.”

“Maybe we should climb the mountain,”
said my wife. I didn’t think it was a
good idea.

“Why would anyone want to vacation
like this?” said my wife, wrapping
gauze around my leg with one
hand and brushing an army of tiny
crabs out of her hair with the other.
“This is a horrible prize.”

“That’s probably where the ghost lives,”
I said.
“Maybe we should meet him on his
own terms,” she said. “I don’t think it’s
a very good idea,” I said.

We didn’t have any rope so we decided
I would stay at the bottom and try to
catch her if she fell. I couldn’t really
climb because the snakebite on my leg
was infected and sore. We were right
to have brought the tennis shoes. We
have an uncanny sense about these
things. I watched my wife scale the
mountain and when she was just
overhead I realized that I still found
her extremely attractive.
“Looking good,” I called after her.
She did not respond.
“Looking good,” I yelled.
“Stop,” she said. “I am trying to respect
the mountain.”
She was gone for three days so I
camped out at the base of the mountain
and drank coladas by myself.
My leg got worse. It was too gross
to look at. I imagined a doctor saying,
“There’s no hope for the leg. We’re going
to have to amputate.”
I had no nightmares or visions while
she was gone, which I appreciated.
It was a very peaceful time.
She appeared on the morning of the
third day.
I asked her what happened and she
said there was more to it than she
could really explain.
“It’s complicated,” she said. “I really
needed rope.”

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Our second clue was a coil of climber’s
rope wrapped in fresh plastic, delivered
in another log. We suspected it was the
same log.
“They’re fucking with us,” said my wife.
“There’s no way of knowing,” I said.
“Your leg looks terrible,” she said.

“How did you know he was there and
how did you know he was bitter?” “He
kept saying things to me.”

The third clue was a bottle of wine
and two red candles in crystal
candleholders.

“Like what?”

She set the candles and the wine on
the log and waited for me to join her.

“It’s complicated.”

“It’s hard to describe.”

Over wine we agreed not to fight
anymore. We were on vacation. We
were wasting our time here together.
It wasn’t all bad. I told her I would
appreciate it if she were more sensitive
and open. She told me she needed me
to respect her right to have her own
private thoughts.

“To the top?”

“Try.”

“This is good,” I said, “this is headway.”

“It’s hard to say.”

“He did impressions.”

“Did you get to a point where there was
no more up?”

“Like a comedian?” I said.

The next few days were incredibly
pleasant. We talked a lot and she said
a lot of things like,

“I know,” I said.
“This is terrible,” she said.
“How high up did you go?” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said.

“When I got past the trees, it was
nighttime. I couldn’t see where I was
going. I could see the ocean and the
stars and the moon but I could not see
the mountain itself. I climbed until I
was suddenly back at the trees again
and it was daytime and I just kept
going until I was back where I started.”
“So you climbed up and over?”
“I don’t know.”
“Were there ghosts?”

“What kinds of things?”
“Old jokes.”
“Like what?”

“No,” she said, “I told you you wouldn’t
get it.”
I thought she was being shitty and
withholding so I pouted and drank
coladas under some banana leaves.
Visions came and went and I did not
engage. When I saw snakes, I waited
it out. When beetles crawled out of
my mouth, I closed my eyes and let
them scuttle away. She stayed near
the water. She ran her toe through
the sand and watched the water
smooth the rut.

“There was one bitter ghost.”

“How many more days of this?” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said.

“Did you see him?”

“What do you know?” I said.

“No.”

“A lot,” she said.

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“I think a ghost is like a spiritual bruise.”
“A spiritual infected snakebite,” I said.
“That festers,” she said.
“Until you have to amputate,” I said.
“Or it’s all wound and no body.”
We decided to play a game called
Wound. We spread our bodies out on
the sand and tried to take up as much
room as possible. We pushed out from
the tips of our fingers and the tips of
our toes. We tried to grow and deepen.
Then the beach turned to blood and
that was incredibly hilarious to both
of us.
I became very pale because I was very
sick.
“I think the snakes were real,” I said.
“Do you think the snakes were real?”

June 28 / M odern Eden Gallery with
Sanaa
A rtSpan
Kahn (pen

+ ink)

13

“Yeah,” she said. “Shh. You’re very sick.”
“I think I am becoming more like the
ghost,” I said.
“You’re not like the ghost at all,” she said.
She brought water from the ocean
in little leaves she plucked from the
dense vegetation. She cooled my head
with cool water and said she didn’t
know why she said that. “I didn’t really
mean that when I said it,” she said.
“Which part?” I said. “I’m just upset,”
she said.
She was really upset so I tried to show
her how not sick I was. “I’m feeling
pretty good today,” I said.
“Your teeth are falling out,” she said.
“Hard Island Living,” I said.
I wanted to seem less sick so I said,
“I think I might give the mountain a try.”
“I think that’s dumb,” she said.
“I’ve got the cane and the rope,” I said,
“and the candles. I’ve got more strength
than I’ve felt in a long time.”
“I am not happy about this decision,”
she said, “and I do not support it.”
The truth is, I did not have more
strength than I’d felt in a long time.
The truth is, I thought I might climb
the mountain for a while then die on
the mountain and become a ghost and
it would be very mysterious and she

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would work really hard to solve the
mystery until she solved it so she could
stay on the island with me forever.

“That’s good news,” she said.

“I thought maybe you would try at
the mystery while I am gone,” I said,
coiling the rope around my hand in a
productive-looking way.

“You’re very sick,” she said.

“We don’t have all the clues,” she said.
Then I produced the fourth clue, which
had arrived that morning: a single shot
pistol wrapped in plastic.
“Then I think I solved the mystery,” she
told me. “They’re just giving us what
we need.”
“That’s cheesy,” I said.
“It’s a travel company,” she said.
“It’s a sweepstakes,” I said.
“It’s a scam,” she said.
“It’s a mystery,” I said.
“Not any more,” she said.
“You don’t know that,” I told her. “Not
for sure.”
“Is it loaded?” she asked.
I didn’t know. The clip was glued into
the handle.

“You’re ready to leave?”

“I’m not,” I said, “I’m just winning at
Wound.” “We’re not playing anymore,”
she said.
“Said the quitter,” I said, to my wife.
“I’m not a quitter,” she said.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I said.
“Wounds can’t answer questions,” she
said.
I was fingering my wedding ring and
I said, “It’s sort of an odd thing, to
promise to be together until you die.”
“That’s not exactly what we said,” she
said.
“It’s sort of what we said,” I said.
“It’s not what I said,” she said.
“It’s not exactly what we said,” I said,
“but what we said implied it.”
A swarm of gnats settled around us
and all of these frogs came out of the
dense vegetation to eat them.
“Whoa,” said my wife.

“If that’s the fourth clue,” she said, “it
means they’re coming to get us soon.”

“I thought we were the only things
here,” I said, “or, the only living things.”

“A few days, maybe,” I said.

“That’s very self-centered,” she said.

“Well goddamn it,” I said, “I’m dying.”
“I miss the ghost,” she said after a dozen
or so coladas.
We hadn’t been haunted in any way
for several days, unless you count the
frogs, but that seemed unrelated.
“I appreciate your honesty,” I said. I was
in an awful mood because the pain in
my leg kept interrupting my thoughts.

skin rotting off in rings circling out
from the wound.
I tried to move, but each step was
painful. I yelled until I was out of
breath. A group of green parrots lifted
from the trees behind us.
“Where is that coming from?” I
demanded.
She shrugged.

“Do you want me to tell you what the
ghost was like?” she said.

“Hard island living,” she said, with tears
in her eyes.

“I would have before but now I just
want to go home,” I said. “That’s all I
care about.”

“Do you think if I kissed you enough
times whatever you have could pass to
me and we could both be sick but you
a little less sick?” she said.

“Well I would have liked to tell you,”
she said. “How long have we been
here?” I said.
She didn’t know.
“Why don’t you think they’re here yet?”
I said.
“Because we’re deciding if we want to
stay,” she said.
“Not me,” I said.
“Maybe there’s more to all of this than
what you want,” she said. “I’m going to
climb that fucking mountain,” I said.
“It’s not a good idea,” she said.
She was right. I was pretty rotted away
by then, pretty much unsalvageable—
just a puddle of puss for a leg and my

“Probably,” I said.
We kissed over and over and over and
over and over again until nothing
happened.
“It didn’t work,” she said.
“No,” I said.
“I’m going to shoot myself with the
gun,” she said.
“But then I’ll be alone,” I said.
“No,” she said, “I’m going to wait until
you die first.”
“You probably shouldn’t do that,” I said.
“We haven’t been married that long.
You might regret it.”

She thought about it for a long time
but never said anything.
“They’re not coming,” I said.
“This was a terrible vacation,” she said.
“There were some good parts,” I said.
“I don’t even know if that’s true,” she
said.
“We’re indecisive,” I said, “so it’s true
sometimes and not true others.” That
made her laugh and cry, which was
sad for me.
I wasn’t getting any better, which was
a thing that used to happen all the
time, so I felt nostalgic and lonely.
“Maybe I’m just sick because I’m old,” I
said. “Maybe I’m too old to get better.”
“You’re not that old,” she said.
“No one ever really thinks they’re all
that old,” I said. “Some people do,” she
said.
She was right. Some people do. I
wasn’t one of those people. I was glad
to suddenly know a truth about myself.
“I’m not getting any better,” I said, “and
they’re not coming to get us.”
“I know,” she said. “You were a really
good husband.”
“Thanks,” I said. Then, “tell me what
kind of things the ghost said while
you were on the mountain.”

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“Mainly quotes from TV shows and old
movies.”

“You could go on living on the island
and hang out with the ghost and the
frogs and the parrots and the turtles
forever,” I said.

“You look awkward doing that,” I said,
“Focus, or you’re going to lose.”

“I might just do that,” she said.

“I’m winning,” I said.

“Dynomite,” I said.

“I’m going to tell myself you did that,”
I said.

“What?” she said.

“Not like that,” she said.

“Let’s play Wound,” she said.

A swarm of turtles appeared where the
sand met the water. They inched their
awkward way toward us.

I was too tired for anything else, so
it seemed like a good idea. I started
playing Wound. She told me I was
winning.

“That sounds pretty good, actually,” I
said.
“He was really good at it,” she said.

“I guess this is just going to keep
happening,” I said.
“Forever,” she said, “because they’re not
coming.”

“You’re winning,” she said. “Look at
you.” “I’m doing pretty good,” I said.
“You’re doing so good,” she said.

“You’re my wife,” I said, “and I love you.”

“I just said that,” I said.

“I’m going to shoot myself with the
pistol,” she said.

The sand turned into blood again and
the humor was not lost on me, that
now the ghost was quoting himself.

“You have to wait,” I said.
“Obviously, I’m going to wait,” she said.
“Then I won’t know what you did,” I
said.
“Nope.”

“We’re all doing great,” she said.
The truth is, she wasn’t doing very well.
She was sitting up and moving the
clues around like frogs or parrots or
turtles, or awkward puzzle pieces.

“What?” she said.

“I’m winning,” I said.
“I love you,” she said, like she couldn’t
hear me.
“You’re not even playing it right,” I said.
“I love you,” she said.
“I don’t like this game and I want to
stop,” I said.
The sand turned into snakes then into
beetles then into blood then back into
sand.
“Old hats,” I insisted.
“I love you,” she said.
“Are you even listening to me?” I said.
She kissed me a bunch and didn’t get
any sicker.
“I love you,” she said.

Colin Winnette is a writer living in San Francisco. He's the author of several books, most recently
COYOTE (Les Figues 2014) and HAINTS STAY (Two Dollar Radio 2015).
colinwinnette.net

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