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Home > Turtles All the Way Down(6)

Turtles All the Way Down(6)
Author: John Green

I laughed, and my laughter seemed freakishly loud as it echoed across the deserted river. On a half-submerged tree near the river’s bank, a softshell turtle noticed us and plopped into the water. The river was lousy with turtles.

After the first bend in the river, we passed a shallow island made of millions of white pebbles. A blue heron stood perched on an old bleached tire, and when she saw us she spread her wings and flew away, more pterodactyl than bird. The island forced us into a narrow channel on the east side of the river, and we floated underneath sycamore trees leaning out over the water in search of more sunlight.

Most of the trees were covered in leaves, some streaked with pink in the first hints of autumn. But we passed under one dead tree, leafless but still standing, and I looked up through its branches, which intersected to fracture the cloudless blue sky into all kinds of irregular polygons.

I still have my dad’s phone. I keep it and a charging cord hidden in Harold’s trunk next to the spare tire. A ton of the pictures on his phone were of leafless branches dividing up the sky, like the view I had as we floated under that sycamore. I always wondered what he saw in that, in the split-apart sky.

Anyway, it really was a beautiful day—golden sunshine bearing down on us with just enough heat. I’m not much of an outside cat, so I rarely have occasion to consider the weather, but in Indianapolis we get eight to ten properly beautiful days a year, and this was one of them. I hardly had to paddle at all as the river bent to the west. The water crinkled with sunlight. A pair of wood ducks noticed us and took off, their wings flapping desperately.

At last, we came to the bit of land that as kids we’d named Pirates Island. It was a real river island, not like the pebble beach we’d paddled past earlier. Pirates Island had thickets of honeysuckle and tall trees with trunks gnarled from the yearly spring floods. Because the river has so much agricultural runoff, there were crops, too: Little tomato and soybean plants sprang up everywhere, well fertilized by all the sewage.

I steered the canoe onto the algae-soaked beach and we got out to walk around. Something about the river had made Daisy and me quiet, almost unaware of each other, and we wandered in different directions.

I’d spent part of my eleventh birthday here. Mom had made a treasure map, and after cake at home, Daisy and Mom and I got into the canoe and paddled down to Pirates Island. We dug with spades at the base of a tree and found a little chest full of chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. Davis had met us down there, with his little brother, Noah. I remembered digging until my spade hit the plastic of the treasure chest, and allowing myself to feel like it was real treasure, even though I knew it wasn’t. I was so good at being a kid, and so terrible at being whatever I was now.

I walked along the whole edge of the island until I found Daisy sitting on an uprooted barkless tree that had beached here as some flood receded. I sat down next to her and looked into the little pool below our feet, where crawfish were darting around. The pool seemed to be shrinking—it had been a drier summer than usual, and hotter.

“Remember that birthday party you had here?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. At the party, Davis had briefly lost this Iron Man action figure he always had with him. He’d had it for so long that all the decals had been rubbed away; it was just a red torso and yellow limbs. He’d really freaked out when he lost it, I remembered, but then my mom found it.

“You okay, Holmesy?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you say anything other than yeah?”

“Yeah,” I said, and smiled a little.

We sat for a while, and then stood up together without speaking and waded through the knee-deep water until we got to the river’s edge. Why didn’t it bother me to slosh through the filthy water of the White River when hours earlier I’d found it intolerable to hear my stomach rumble? I wish I knew.

A chain-link fence held in the boulders that formed the floodwall, and I climbed it, then reached down to help Daisy. We crawled up the riverbank and found ourselves in a forest of sycamore and maple trees. In the distance, I could see the manicured lawns of Pickett’s golf course, and beyond that the glass-and-steel Pickett mansion, which had been designed by some famous architect.

We wandered around for a while as I tried to get my bearings, and then I heard Daisy whisper, “Holmesy.” I picked my way through the woods toward her. She’d found the night-vision camera, mounted to a tree, about four feet off the ground. It was a black circle, maybe an inch in diameter—the kind of thing you’d never notice in a forest unless you knew to look for it.

I opened up my phone and connected to the night-vision camera, which wasn’t password protected. In seconds, photos started downloading to my phone. I deleted the first two, which the camera had taken of us, and swiped past a dozen more from the past week—deer and coyotes and raccoons and possums, all of them either daytime shots or green silhouettes with bright white eyes.

“Don’t want to alarm you, but there’s a golf cart headed in our vague direction,” Daisy said quietly. I looked up. The cart was still a ways away. I swiped through more pictures until I got back to September 9th, and there, yes, in shades of green I could see the back of a stocky man wearing a striped nightshirt. Time stamp 1:01:03 A.M. I screenshotted it.

“Dude’s definitely spotted us,” Daisy said nervously.

I glanced up again and mumbled, “I’m hurrying.” I’d swiped to see the previous picture, but it was taking forever to load. I heard Daisy run off, but I stayed, waiting for the photograph. It was odd, for me to be the calm one while feeling Daisy’s nerves jangling. But the things that make other people nervous have never scared me. I’m not afraid of men in golf carts or horror movies or roller coasters. I didn’t know precisely what I was afraid of, but it wasn’t this. The image revealed itself in slow motion, one line of pixels at a time. Coyote. I glanced up, saw the man in the golf cart seeing me, and I bolted.

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