By: Dawn DeBraal

Hurricane "Michael" receded in October 2018 devastating the Florida panhandle. The remains of a ship, the Norwegian bark named "Vale" went down in an 1899 hurricane along with the ships the Jafnar, and the James A. Garfield. Over time, sands shifted covering the documented wrecks only to be exposed again by Michael's wrath. The area was flattened with little in the way of recognizable land marks. Dog Island, a small island near the Florida panhandle also affected by Michael, was laid waste. There are several stories as to why the island was named "Dog Island." One story told of wild dogs on the island when it discovered by the French in the 1500s, or that the shape of the island resembled that of a crouching dog, another story, that the island was named after those who worked aboard ships who were called "dogs" as they had to leap off into the water to help land the ship. No one knew which story was correct. Most of the inhabitants were content with the mystery about how Dog Island was named.

Hershel Pitney's house was one of the few houses still standing on the island after Michael, it was one of the oldest too. Hershal stayed back while the others left to find shelter after working on their properties during the day. The last boat left for Carrabelle leaving Dog Islands' sole inhabitant, to watch over their possessions. They would be back in the morning, or in the coming months to try to restore what they had lost.

When Hershel discovered his house was still standing, he nodded silently in approval, setting about boarding up the few windows that succumbed to the wind cleaning debris from around the house and to set up the generator. He brought back with him plenty of food and water. All of the other residents of Dog Island had gone for the day, leaving Hershal alone. He sat in eerie silence watching the sun go down listening to the gulls and the waves of the Gulf. It was strange to be there on the island with no lights or any other humans. Soon he would need to turn the generator on breaking the silence he treasured. As the sun slowly left the horizon, Hershal started the generator with a few quick pulls. The loud engine noise was abrasive but a necessity for the short time he needed it. Exhausted from a day of clean up Hershal fell asleep only to be awakened the next morning by one of his neighbors who'd come back to work on their property.

Seth had not taken the ferry over but came over on his own boat. It was small enough to land the craft without a dock. He called through the front door. Hershal stumbled out of bed and opened the door. "Coffee?" Seth begged.

"Sure, come on in, let me start the generator" Hershal started the generator, it put-putted to life.

"How did it go last night?" Seth asked? Hershal laughed. "I couldn't tell you. I was going to burn some of the debris, but fell asleep." "It will be a long day again." Seth sighed. The coffee maker finished brewing. Seth blew off two cups hanging on a stand and poured coffee into each mug.

"I had to be extremely careful coming over this morning. Between the garbage in the water, and the exposed shipwrecks it was a harrowing journey!"

"Exposed shipwrecks?" Hershal asked in interest.

"A couple of old ships that went down in over 100 years ago! I think one or two of them were Norwegian. Not sure. No time so scout today, too much to do. Interesting sight though, they have been uncovered before in storms, and then slowly sink back out of sight. If you get a chance today, I could use a hand at some heavy work." Hershal nodded. "Well I got to get going, see what I can salvage." Seth tipped his cup finishing off the coffee. "Thanks for the Joe!" He walked out leaving Hershal to begin his restoration for the day. Hershal decided to take a look on the roof to see what that looked like. Part of him felt guilty that he had minor repairs to do while all of his neighbors faced devastation. He was satisfied that his home was secure after nailing some of the shingles back on the roof. He then spent the rest of the day helping Seth save what he could of his home. At the end of the day, Seth returned to Carrabelle, leaving his friend to his own defenses. Hershal fell asleep exhausted.

He woke with a start, sitting upright in the bed. He'd heard something that had awakened him from a deep sleep. It was unnerving. He checked all of the doors and windows, they were locked or covered with boards. Hershal wiped the steam from the window looking out. It was difficult to see in the drizzle. A movement outside the kitchen window caught his attention when lightning flashed! Grabbing his 9mm automatic, he opened the door shouting.

"Who is there!" then he laughed at himself when he realized he was expecting an answer. If someone had been on the island, they would have knocked on his door, they all knew each other here. Hershal ventured a few steps from the house when he heard a "snap." Spinning around shouting. "Who is there!" he showed the light in front of him on a pile of debris, there was a scrap of cloth flapping on the brush pile. Grabbing the cloth, most of the material dissolved in his hand leaving a small swatch. Losing his nerve, he trotted back into the house doing a quick check making sure someone wasn't waiting for him in the house as he had foolishly left the front door open. Exhausted he turned the lantern low lying there listening to the rain and the wind which lulled him to sleep. The next morning, he woke exasperated with himself for leaving the lantern burning on the bedside table all night. He cursed himself for being so careless, one outstretched arm could have knocked the lamp to the floor starting a fire! Hershal waited for the coffee to brew while he examined the scrap of cloth. It's loose warp and weft looked very primitive. He lifted the scrap up to his nose and inhaled deeply. Musty, salty, old and moldy. He laid it down when he heard Seth knocking at the door. He opened it letting Seth in. "Coffee!" Seth moaned. Hershal nodded toward the pot. Seth put both hands around the cup inhaling the contents before he blew and took a sip. "Nectar of the gods!" he laughed. Hershal chuckled. He tossed the scrap of material to Seth who picked it up and turned it over in his hand. "So, you give me an old, old piece of cloth, what's with this?" He laid it back on the table. "I heard something last night. I went out to find what it was, this scrap of material was caught on a pile of wood in front of the house."

"It looks old," Seth commented.

"Exactly. I didn't see anything because it was raining too hard. Who could have left this behind? I don't know of anyone else on the island."

Seth studied the old cloth. "I can take it to the University if you'd like. I am going there tomorrow. Maybe they can shed some light on it." Hershal shrugged. Could be a fat lot of nothing too, but it would be interesting.

"Ok, take it! Find out what you can." Seth finished his coffee opened his wallet and put the scrap of material safely inside. "Well, another day of manual labor!" Seth winked as he headed out the door. Hershal started the pile of wood on fire. Might as well get rid of the hiding places. He wondered why that thought occurred to him. Without the junk, he would have a clear view of his property. Perhaps it was his imagination gone wild!

At the end of the day, Hershal stood watching the sun go down. There never was a sunset that he didn't appreciate. Especially seeing the devastation of his neighbors' property all around him. Sure, right now he looked good but when they rebuilt their damaged homes around him, his home would be the eyesore on the island. Normally new homes were grander and bigger than the homes they replaced. He would still have his one-story bungalow now absent of landscaping and charm. He would need to look at sprucing the place up a bit. It was time, he hadn't done anything major to it for many years. He cranked up the volume on the radio and listened until it was dark and he was tired. Crawling into bed he did blow out the lantern. He wouldn't make the same mistake like last night. The radio warned there was another hurricane coming not as bad, on the heels of Michael. He would have to think about leaving the island again soon. The hurricane was a few days away yet. He sighed. Sometimes the threat of these storms took the joy out of living in paradise.

The wind picked up during the night, a loose board banging on the house woke Hershal. Part of him wanted to stay in bed and the other wouldn't be satisfied until he checked out the noise. He felt around on the floor and found his high intensity flashlight. The lantern was no good outside in the wind and rain. He turned the flashlight on convinced he saw something shrink from the window. He inhaled sharply turning the flashlight off. Cold sweat ran down his face as his heart raced rapidly beating his chest. Did he see something or had he been dreaming? He definitely felt he saw something in that window. He could feel his heart still hammering in his chest his legs wobbly. There was no banging wood outside now. Fear kept Hershal frozen to the bed. He tried to make himself appear as if he had gone back to sleep. He reached under his pillow and felt the 9 mm pistol. He took the safety off. Waiting as he tried to get his ragged breath to slow down. Every fiber of his being snapped as though it were charged with an electrical current. He recognized this as the "fight or flight" reaction. With difficulty, he managed to get his breathing under control. His heart slowly returning to normal. He slipped off the bed and quietly maneuvered himself to the window slowly looking out. It was a clear night the moon was waxing. He looked to the left and saw nothing. He looked to the right and tried to muffle the expelled scream when the skeleton face peeked into the window searching, for him? He threw himself to the floor the heart-pounding resumed. He realized someone, something, was trying to pull the loose board off the house again. This was insane! He sat up putting his back to the wall. It was hard to breathe. He felt an immense pressure on his chest and though he was young, he thought perhaps he was having a heart attack at 47. He gulped air and held the pistol tighter in his hand. He needed to find out what the hell was going on. Crawling out of the bedroom, he found his way to a standing position, then walked to the front door. Listening he quickly opened the door and saw a ragged skeleton pounding away at the house. He took aim with the 9mm blowing its shoulder off. The skeleton looked up from his business to find it's arm falling to the ground. It turned to the door starting toward Hershal who took a second shot. The skull of the skeleton exploded. He shot again and hit its hip shattering the bone as the skeleton fell. Hershal grabbed a hammer from the toolbox striking the skeleton over and over until he had a pile of broken bones and dust. He could barely get his breath he was so exhausted. His body started to shake violently and he took the hammer in with him locking the door behind him. He ran from window to window searching. Were there others? What the hell was that? A second time he ran around the house looking out each window. Did he see something, was he imagining? Shrieking when he saw several of them mechanically jerking as they moved toward the house. Smashing that one up must have sent out some kind of a signal to the rest! His weather radio sounded warning of high winds that the hurricane was picking up speed and coming faster than expected. Hurricanes were the least of his worries right now. Hershal snapped off the radio, it only served as a distraction. He needed to find a way of making sure these souls didn't get through the windows, the weakest link in the chain. He turned on the high beam flashlight shining it out the window. The skeleton nearest the window shied away from the high-intensity beam. There was a weak spot! Hershal surmised. Lightning and thunder added to the noise an confusion outside of his home. The shipwrecks!

Hershal suddenly realized uncovering the ships had also uncovered the watery graves of those who went down in the hurricane so many years ago. Having been under water for years they were sensitive to light. All he had to do was survive the evening and get off this damn island. A window crashed, a bony arm protruded through the broken pane. Hershal shrieked grabbing the hammer. He only started with twenty bullets, he was down to 17, so he wasn't going to waste them. The hammer struck the skeleton hitting its hand breaking off several fingers. The skeleton didn't seem to notice extending the arm and shoulder trying to get into the house. Hershal hit the skeleton again with the hammer, breaking its' brittle shoulder, then remembering the flashlight. He shined it in the skeleton's face. The skeleton shrank away from the window dragging what was left of its' arm behind it. The rain was coming hard now. Hershal grabbed a cardboard box tearing it down, he fitted it to the pane to stop the rain from coming in. Back and forth he patrolled the house from window to window. When he saw one near the house, he showed them the intense light and they would back away. He wondered how long before they would figure out the light wouldn't hurt them. What the hell was he thinking? Skeleton's had no brains! He was going crazy! How could any of this be happening to him? At the first light of day, he was getting off this island. Let the hurricane take the damn house! Exhausted he sat in a chair turning the flashlight on and off as needed. Sometime during the night, he put his head on the table and fell asleep. His body could take no more. When he woke, daylight was just breaking on the horizon. He cautiously sidled to the window looking out. There was nothing. Not even the smashed skeleton he had destroyed. The rain was coming down and the wind was blowing pretty hard. He needed to get back to his boat and make his way to Carrabelle on the mainland. He would not risk another night on the island, or face the next hurricane now bearing down on him less than a day away. It was now or never. He quickly packed some food just in case, picking up his gun he left the house running to where he had tied off his boat. When he reached the boat glad he had doubled the ties as the boat heaved up and down in the water making it hard for him to get on the boat. Hershal managed to stick his landing not very gracefully. Though there was cabin steerage, he wouldn't risk going under to drive. Too many logs in the water from the first storm. He would have to go slow. Hershal winced every time he heard something hit the boat watching for submerged hazards as well as he could. There wasn't much to see in the dark water. Hershal reached Carrabelle tying his boat up. It would probably be gone when he returned to it. Checking his phone, he discovered he had two bars. He called Seth who assured him he'd be right there and made good on the promise. When Seth pulled up, Hershal got into the car. He broke down hysterically telling his friend of the nights' happenings. Seth's eyes grew large and his mouth hung open while Hershal spoke of walking skeletons on the island. Seth kept driving inland. "We are going where it's safe." He assured his friend. "Don't want to freak you out but that piece cloth you gave me? The university estimated it to be over 100 hundred years old. I also found out your house used to be owned by the dock master at the time those ships went down. The dock master never paid for the goods those ships delivered. They could have been vengeful sailors." Hershal shook his head relieved to be leaving Dog Island behind him. He hoped the hurricane would take it all away. Seth drove them to Gainesville to wait out the storm.

The Category 3 storm was not as ferocious as Michael but shifted the sands back over the wreckages covering them up again. Hershal went back to Dog Island only once to sell the property he owned on the island at a deep discount. That was okay with him. He wanted nothing to do with the Island ever again. The wrecks were covered now, people were safe until the next big hurricane came and re-shifted the sands.



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