The other side of the island

September 2022

By David Roper

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

August 1985

Artifacts – Gadus Island, Maine

“What about cucumber guy?” Sophie asked, after Cleo joined her at the top of the wharf. “Should we see him first? Maybe get him to show us around the island?”

Cleo was abrupt. She didn’t want anyone with them. “I know this island. We don’t need a tour guide. Even in the fog.” She pointed into the blurry landscape ahead. Sophie looked where she pointed and shrugged. “Creepy.”

“It’s this way to the trail leading north. Cleo moved forward and Sophie followed, occasionally looking back to the caretaker shack that was slowly disappearing.

Memories flooded in as Cleo walked toward the north trail. Moving among the island’s grasses and sedges, she saw again what Aiden had passionately identified and described so many years ago: the ferns, pasture roses, sheep laurel, goldenrod, asters, mosses, and lichens. And around them she heard the birds he’d pointed out; the birds he listened to and even spoke to during different seasons and migrations; the many species that would rest and feed on the island during their long northbound trip. And the warblers. She especially remembered them. “Warblers galore,” he’d said with awe, pride, and a sense of stewardship in his voice, as if the birds were all his charge on the island. He’d told her of the yellow warblers’ series of six to ten whistled notes, sounding like sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet. And he’d described other songbirds such as scarlet tanagers, thrushes, flycatchers, white-throated sparrow, and the year-round residents such as chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmouse, and several woodpecker species.

Sophie interrupted Cleo’s thoughts. “Mom, I see something ahead. What the…!? That’s the museum?”

Cleo nodded.

“Mom, it’s a shack. And how can you have a museum in a place where there are no people?”

“Just come in and let’s see.”

The museum, about twelve feet wide and eight feet deep, was sided with old barnboard and driftwood. It had one small six-pane window and a barnboard door with long rusty black hinges and a wooden latch. The roof was several rusty panels of tin, extended over a simple deck to make a small porch.

The door squeaked on its hinges as Cleo stepped through. The scent of salt air and low tide, caught amidst the drifting fog, followed her in. A gull flew over the shack, its plaintive wail making Sophie hesitate, as if heeding a warning, before she poked her head inside. Crudely displayed on roughly made shelves were artifacts ranging from the not-so-distant past–early fishing floats, tools and nets, metal farming implements–to things from way back into the Late Archaic period beginning 5000 years ago. Here were adzes, axes, wood-shaping tools, barbed harpoons, bayonets, stone pendants, spear points, and animal hide scrapers. Cleo moved through each piece carefully, not noticing that Sophie had quickly tired of the display and now stared out the small window. “Your great grandfather taught me to be curious, Sophie; he taught me that being curious was one of the most important attributes a person could have. That’s why I wanted to come here to this island when I was your age. That’s why I explored this island for its past. Like these artifacts.” Cleo picked up a long, harpoon-like fish bill. “Sophie? Look. This is an actual swordfish rostrum. It’s bone. Poppy told me they were used as foreshafts mounted at the ends of wooden harpoon shafts and armed with bone harpoon tips. He thought they were used for swordfish hunting by the Red Paint People. Back then, several thousands of years ago, he said the surface water was warm enough to allow swordfish to swim inshore around the Gulf of Maine. Now they’re way out there; you have to go far offshore to catch one.”

Sophie glanced at the artifacts in the small room. Smirked. Turned to face Cleo. “So, what’s the next stop on the tour, Mom? Or is this the secret you wanted to show me? Is this what I need to understand?”

“I just thought…Anyway, there’s more. I just wanted you to see…”

“See what?” Sophie shrugged. “See what? Mom, what’s with you? I’m just not interested in this stuff. Can’t people be interested in what they want?”

Cleo turned away from her daughter, stared out the small window, a blank, almost trance-like look on her face. “On the other side of the island,” she continued finally. “It’s on the other side of the island. This is the way I came when I first… Look, Sophie, I just need you to understand how it came to…”

Sophie was exasperated. And a bit scared. “Came to WHAT? What happened here? Mom, you’re freaking me out! Why can’t you just tell me?”

“I can. And I will.” Cleo looked deep into her daughter. “You know I love you more than anything, Sophie.”

Sophie threw up her hands. “This is whacked. I’m going back to the wharf. I’ll wait there. You go do whatever on the other side of the island.” And with that she turned on her heels, stepped out of the museum shack and slowly began to feel her way through the fog along the path back to the wharf. Just before the fog swallowed her, she turned and looked back. “And watch out for those ghosts, Mom. Or whatever it is you’re looking for.”

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 or