Sasha’s footsteps echoed loudly on the bleached red cedar planks. The forest was old and so did not say much. She didn’t mind. She had run ahead of the others, hoping to lose them and find some respite. The day had been long, with her watching over children that were not her own. She took pleasure in the smell of the old trees, hidden mostly by moss and years of neglect. She enjoyed forgetting the students and remembering herself a little. Soon she would be telling someone to do something – or not. Soon she would be a ‘teacher’ again. For now, she was just Sasha and that suited her fine.
It was a short walk from the hot springs to the boat which had dropped them off two hours earlier. The next twenty minutes or so would be hers. She sighed, taking in the greenery, hoping no one would think to catch up with her.
The hot sulfuric springs were a part of the aboriginal land which the natives had managed to preserve in its most natural state. A nominal fee of three dollars per individual was expected from each visitor. The payment box stood at the base of the path which led to the springs. It was always empty – and completely ignored. Payment was made in good faith, yet, considering its dilapidated state, no one seemed to have much of that available. Sasha had briefly inquired about this lack of consideration for the aborigines and their land. To her dismay, the group leader had replied somewhat indifferently, “You worry too much.”
On their way to the springs, the students had noticed that boat names had been carved into the cedar boardwalk: Drewsipher, Jade II, Prospero, Magic Latern… Their contention was that the boats which had docked here had had their vessel’s name etched into the wood for some kind of a fee. By a professional it had seemed since the craftsmanship was oftentimes too detailed to have been done by a layman. Sasha had questioned its likelihood: what was there on this small island but an empty donation box and a few latrines?
Now, thirty minutes into her walk, the young woman frowned, surprised that she hadn’t gotten to the end of the boardwalk yet. She felt tired and decided to sit down and wait for someone to catch up with her. She had heard voices when she had first set out, but now the emptiness scared her.
Her head drooped and she slumbered.
She woke with a start and looked at her watch. One o’clock! The group should have been at the dock already. Why hadn’t they woken her up on their way there? The wood was dark. She got up quickly and started running. It seemed to her that she ran for a long time. The cedar planks went on and on. She could not see their end. The names carved into the wood seemed to leap out at her, foreboding. She slowed to a walk, panting. Ahead, there was something lying on the planks. Somehow, she knew what it was. She didn’t want to get there. Ever. But she did. There it was. A kit containing a wood chisel and burner. The name of their boat was Sweet Darling. Somehow, it was all she could think about. She knelt down and picked up the chisel.
“Stop touching me!” It was Emily, swatting Quentin’s hand away from her face. She stopped short.
“Do you guys smell that?” The young girl stood still, sniffing the air, perplexed, “It smells like wood burning or something.”
Quentin retorted in his usual clever manner, “You’re obviously smelling yourself, retard!” Annoyed, Emily quickly ran to catch up with her nemesis, intent on getting her revenge.
The skipper looked out above the trees. There was a glow to the forest which he recognized all too well. Somewhere between here and the springs, a young woman was carving this boat’s name into the cedar planks.
Treading the old land sometimes required sacrifice. These children, innocent as they were, could not imagine his people’s history. They came here on their field trips, hoping to take advantage of what had been only lent, eroding the sacredness until there was nothing left.
He knew the school group would not notice when one of their teachers did not show up to count their heads. He sighed heavily, regretting that it had to be this way, though relieved it was not one of the young ones this time around.
Turning to the bow, the skipper nodded to the captain, who started the motor with a grunt. They waited for the children in silence. As they pulled out of the small dock, the darkness settled over the water, only broken by an unsettling light glowing deep inside the forest.