‘In the wild, you get one mistake’

August 2022

By David Roper

This is a continuation from the July issue of an excerpt from Dave’s upcoming book “The Ghosts of Gadus Island”

August 1985
Fog, Gadus Island

After a breakfast of corned beef hash and eggs, Sophie climbed a couple steps on the ladder and poked her head out of the hatch to see if the fog had started to lift. If anything, it had gotten worse. Cleo was finishing scrubbing the frying pan. “Can you dry, please, Sophie?” Sophie backed down the ladder, grabbed a plate and the dish towel, and stood by the counter near her mother. “So, what did happen to you out here when you were my age?”

Cleo continued to scrub, not responding. When she finished scrubbing, she pumped the galley freshwater lever and gave the pan a quick rinse. “It’s best if I show you. Then tell you. All of it. So…so you can see. Maybe understand why. So, anyway, we need to go ashore.”

Sophie put down the dry plate next to the sink. Cocked her head. “Don’t tell me there was a boy out here for you too, Mom? Or is this about those ghosts that cucumber boy was talking about?”

Cleo looked distant now. Disoriented. Lost. She turned slowly, looked out the hatch into the fog before turning back, very serious, and staring at her daughter. “It’s not funny. None of this. Not at all.”

“Okay. Okay.” Sophie leaned back, away from her mother, raising both hands as if in surrender. Or in fear.



“Mom, how are you going to show me the shore when we can’t even find the shore?” Sophie asked, as they shoved off from Archaic in the little wooden skiff.

“Pick a direction, cup your hands around your mouth like a megaphone, shout ‘boo’ a couple times, and then listen carefully,’” Cleo said, as she slid the oars into the skiff’s oarlocks.

Sophie shook her head. “Mom, you’re losing it.”

“No really. Try it.”

Sophie cupped her hands, turned her head to face the left side of the skiff, and shouted ‘boo’ two times. The sound dissipated into the fog. “I feel like an idiot.”

“Now turn 90 degrees and try it again.”

Reluctantly, Sophie repeated the process. “Whoa! That bounced back at me.”

“That’s the land. The other direction on your first try was the harbor opening. No bounce back. You’re using your voice like a radar.”

“Wait…how did you know…no, never mind.” She smirked. “I get it. Poppy showed you.”

Cleo smiled at her daughter and started rowing. “So here we go. We’ll either come up on one side of the harbor or the other, but at least we won’t be out in the three thousand mile-wide Atlantic Ocean.” Cleo concentrated. “The trick is to try to row straight; best way to do that in the fog is to watch our wake astern to see if it’s straight as I row. Not far to go though.”

Sophie was nervous, and looked back toward Archaic, but the big sloop had already been swallowed by the fog. “God, Mom. If we miss shore and row out into the ocean in this little boat, we’ll drown.”

“We won’t. Just sit still and concentrate on all those good senses of yours: sight, sound, and smell. You’ll be able to smell the land, the seaweed on the rocks, hear the swell rolling onto the shore, and soon…” Cleo paused. She had never seen Sophie so alert, her eyes wide, her nose up, her head cocked and lifted like an animal trying to pull in a scent or sound.

And then: “There’s something! I see something. There’s a blurry shape. Keep going, Mom. Keep going.”

Cleo smiled and finished her statement: “…and soon you’ll see land.” Like in the slow twisting of the spyglass lens, the blurry shape became more defined, then transformed into a shack perched on the rocky shore. Cleo knew that the wharf and ladder were down harbor from the shack, so when she was almost touching the shore in the skiff, she turned and followed the coast until they spied the wharf. It was low tide, and about twelve feet of the slimy rungs of the ladder were exposed, along with the rest of the underworld of the dilapidated stone wharf. Bright green, almost fluorescent seaweed covered the pink granite ledge at the base of the wharf’s barnacle encrusted pilings. An abandoned lobster boat, half its bottom planks gone, leaned against the wharf, its keel in the mud, waiting for a tide which would never lift it. Sophie grabbed the bottom rung as Cleo maneuvered the skiff to the ladder. Then she let go, looking aghast at her hand. “Yuk. Gross.”

Cleo grabbed the side of the ladder, steadying the small boat. “It’s the only way up, Soph. You need to go up slowly. It’s real slippery. Be careful.” As Sophie ascended, Cleo heard the voice of a young man. It wasn’t Cary. It wasn’t real. It was in her head, a boy’s voice from years ago cautioning her about going down the wharf ladder. “It hurts to slip and fall. I slipped once; my back crashed down onto the rough edge of one of my boat’s plywood seats.” He’d laughed then, she remembered. A rare, unusual laugh. ‘Haaaa haaaa’–a laugh like a raven. “Next thing I knew I was sliding into the dirty bilge water in the bottom of my skiff, landing there like some large freshly-caught codfish. I was okay that time. Can’t make mistakes like that way out here. At least not more than one.”

“Why not more than one,” Cleo had asked.

“Well, there’s this saying: ‘Out in the wild you get one mistake. Just one. Because the second one – that’s the one that kills you.’”

David Roper’s upcoming novel, “The Ghosts of Gadus Island,” is scheduled for publication next year. Dave is the author of the three-time bestseller “Watching for Mermaids,” as well as the sequel “Beyond Mermaids” and the novel “Rounding the Bend.” All are available through Amazon.com or roperbooks.com.