I paddled the canoe out into the lake, trying to find the exact locations where my father taught me to fish. It seemed impossible, everything looked the same on the water, and the New Jersey Pine Barrens surrounding the lake looked the same in every direction. The green pine trees offered no unique feature; the island was the only thing different from other lakes. The same island my father told me to never go on, never dock the boat there, and never ever step foot on it. He once said it was the island of forever sleep, and anyone who went there never returned. He claimed a witch lived there, and some locals killed her, but before she died, she cast a forever sleep curse on the island, and anyone that came there and fell asleep would never leave the island. They nailed up a black cross over her grave, hoping to keep her from coming back. I thought he was just trying to scare me.
He died six months ago, and now I’m alone; all my relationships ended, and I couldn’t escape the depression that engulfed me.
A loud crack woke me out of the dream, and I noticed that dark clouds covered the lake, lightning flashed around me, and I needed to get off the water. It was dangerous to be on a lake in a thunderstorm. I looked around, and the closest land was the island.
I knew trees were like lightning rods, so I headed to the island’s center and found a group of dense bushes to stay under until the storm passed.
I kept hearing a voice: “Go to sleep.” It said it constantly in a soft female voice. I knew it was dangerous, but I couldn’t resist. It was like a lullaby, and I drifted away. I might have never woken up, but I heard someone in the distance.
I woke up, not knowing how much time had passed, and I noticed a fog had settled over the island, creating a spooky effect that sent chills through me. If there was a Jersey Devil, this is where he would live. I needed to get off this island, or I may die here. I was sure of that, so I stumbled around, trying to get my bearings. I couldn’t find my phone.
A hand touched my shoulder, and I jumped up and spun around with my hands in fists, ready to fight.
“ I’m Tyler from the canoe rental company.”
I looked closer.
“How did you find me?”
“GPS, we put it in the canoes in case anyone tries to steal them, and you're three hours overdue. When I got to the island, I was calling you, then I heard you scream and followed its source to you.”
“I heard you calling me. I was almost lost forever until I heard your voice.”
“I’m glad I found you.”
“What time is it?”
“I've been here over four hours. How is that possible?”
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know, but I’m glad you’re here; this place is crazy. I saw a dark cross up there,” I pointed up, and there was nothing there but tree branches.
“Yeah, I heard stories about the island but never knew if they were true or not.”
“Okay, follow me.” He headed south like I did, but soon we were back in the same spot. It happened over and over. There was no escape. We were about to give up when we heard a crow cawing and when we looked in the direction it came from, we saw a narrow trail.
We walked down it until we reached a mound of dirt.
“That’s a grave,” I said. “There’s a black cross on it.”
“Yeah, and I see bones.”
"Please, let's get out of here.”
The path led us to the shore, and I almost laughed, I was so glad to see the water.
We heard moaning coming from the direction of the grave.
Tyler pointed down the shore. The canoes were there. His phone came to life, and he called 911, reporting our discovery of the grave and the body. “Thank you,” I yelled out to the crow.
We paddled away from the island until we reached the canoe rental pier, and the police were already there. They helped us out and led me to an ambulance.
Tyler waved as they drove me away, but this wasn’t the end of us or the story.
Sometimes I still hear that voice luring me to sleep like a deadly lullaby. On the nights I hear it, I fear I won’t wake up again, and I stay awake late into the night, thinking of the island and my father’s warnings about it. I missed him so much that it hurt, and tears came to me.
Maybe that was why that something inside me wanted me to go to the edge of darkness; and back to the lake. It’s almost like once you were so close to it, you wanted to go there again, which was dangerous. Tyler asked me out by text message, and I replied that I would go with him. Maybe a chance of love could overcome the lure of darkness. I had to hang on to that hope, or I would be lost forever.
The fisherman rowed to a spot near the island and threw out his line. The sun was setting soon, and he heard a moan from the island. Maybe it was a mistake that he thought the island would be safe now that they had found that body there. A crow cawed out from the island. It sounded like a warning. He looked toward the island and was shocked to see fog covering it, yet he could still see a black cross on a tree. A woman appeared in the fog, then he heard a soft voice, and it was singing something beautiful. The words lured him to sit down and close his eyes as his boat drifted toward the island.
His phone rang, and he jumped up, almost falling off the boat. He was close to the shore of the island; he could see the yellow crime tape on it, and it had been torn as if someone had walked through it. He dropped the phone and paddled with all his might away from the island. He planned on never going back there again.