They lived on an island in the only house there. Everyone told them, Don’t move to that island. But they moved there anyway.
This is why everyone warned them away from the island: The Boy With No Face.
Sooner or later, everybody who moves to the island sees him there, they said. Sometimes he’s crouched down in the bramble, picking at something underneath it. Sometimes he’s by the craggly rocks near the edge of the cliff. Sometimes he’s just off the path that goes from the house to the beach, standing behind one of the pine trees.
The point is you’ll see him, they said. And when you do, you’ll start screaming and running back to the house and you’ll lock the door and you’ll pick up the phone and there won’t be any dial tone. And then you’ll start looking around, the phone still clutched in your hand, panting, and you’ll start seeing his faceless face in all of the mirrors of the house. Then all of the windows will fly open like God Himself commanded a hurricane to attack all sides of your house at once. And then the old upright piano that came with the house will start playing by itself. Atonally.
The dishes will come crashing down from the cabinets onto the kitchen floor. An old tricycle that you didn’t even know was in the attic from 90-something years ago will fly down the stairs and then will circle around the Oriental rug in the living room, pedaling by itself. You’ll just barely get the whole family together, screaming for them like a maniac, and then you’ll push your way out the front door against the winds blowing in all directions. And the ancient weathervane from the top gable will hurl down so close to the youngest one that you’ll stop believing in a God or a world with anything good in it at all.
You’ll get down to the dock and watch the planks being torn up from the North-Sou’-East-wester that has come up out of nowhere. You’ll jump into the dinghy that’s violently sloshing in a Biblical sea, because even being at the bottom of that sea would be a better fate than just one more minute on this cursed island.
You’ll look back at the island and see The Boy With No Face, his hands on his hips, watching you from the rocks at the edge of the beach. You’ll see that he’s laughing—not with the mouth that he doesn’t have but with his shoulders, which are shaking in that telltale way, a mocking laughter.
You’ll notice that he’s wearing the same clothes as your youngest, the one who was nearly impaled with the weathervane, the one now crouched at the bottom of the dinghy, his body wracked with sobs bigger than the swells of the sea, his forehead pressed hard to the bottom of the boat.
Your hand will go to his shoulder, to console him. And then he’ll turn his head to look at you.
That’s right. No face.
Ha, they said, the new island people. That’s a good one. And then they moved to the island anyway.
We’re really lucky, you know that? she said to him on the dinghy ride over, that first day.
Why is that? he asked. The youngest one was sitting on his lap as he nudged the outboard motor in the direction of the island.
This house was sooo cheap, she smiled, almost cooing as she said it.
And it comes with an old piano, he added brightly, so this little guy can finally practice.
He mussed the youngest’s hair, which was long and already tangled with the wind. He smiled down at him, and the boy might have smiled back, but the sun came through a dark cloud and emblazoned the sea with sudden light. For an instant, all of the detail was wiped from their vision, and the boy’s face appeared as blank as a sail.
They looked at each other and laughed as the dinghy nosed up to the dock of their new island home. They noticed it was missing a few planks, and they resolved to fix that soon.
Michael Depp’s writing has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and in Poets & Writers, The Chronicle of Higher Education, McSweeney’s, Reuters and other places. He is the editor of NetNewsCheck, which covers the world of digital media, and he is working on a children’s book about the underpark, a place that will frighten even the strongest-hearted.