A haunted Key West resort. Ghosts of a secretive family's past. A deadly hurricane.
When Ellie Whitaker leaves her dead-end job behind to spread her grandmother's ashes in a tropical paradise 90 miles from Cuba, the last thing she expected was to face more ghosts. But darkness lurks inside her nana's ancestral home. Ellie's presence stirs up its energies. And as a hurricane creeps closer to the island, she must hurry to discover long-buried truths.
About her treasure-hunting grandfather's death in 1951. About the curse her grandmother left behind. About the innkeeper next door with an evil secret. And the spectral visions she keeps having. Some there to help her. Some to make sure Ellie becomes a ghostly resident of haunted Key West forever.
Ghosts, a natural disaster and paradise. All of this sounds like a lush recipe for something chilling at night or a lazy afternoon with nowhere to go. I chose this book because I wanted to cast a wide net across the Latinx community to capture voices not just from mainland countries, but islands too. They also bore a huge brunt of colonization and deserve to tell their history. It goes without saying Gaby is a Latina literary force I had to share. She also writes YA if you have younger ones in your home. I wish I had books like hers when I was younger. – V.Castro
"Gaby Triana's ISLAND OF BONES is a devious mystery with plenty of dark secrets, unexpected twists and a very satisfying payoff. Highly recommended!"– Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of V-WARS
BEST HORROR BOOKSof 2018– Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews
"On the surface,ISLAND OF BONESprovides a drama-packed battle with the evils of human jealousy and greed against the backdrop of a swirling assault of ghosts and nature. But scratch away the veneer and you will uncover a reminder that supressing your true potential can be detrimental to your mental wellbeing. So be you, face your ghosts and pursue your passions just as Gaby Triana has done with this novel."– Vicki Camps, Nightmarish Conjurings
"Very well written, highly engaging...enjoyable and fun, defying several genre expectations."– Christine Morgan, The Horror Fiction Review
A weathered old officer from the Key West Police Department stood on my front porch, cigarette clenched between his teeth. "Leanne Drudge?"
"Yes?" I pushed the screen door open, wondering what this was about.
"I'm Officer Brady. This here's Officer Smith." He gestured to a younger man in uniform standing by the patrol car on the street.
"What can I do for you gentlemen?" The shrimp in garlic sauce would burn on the stove if he didn't make this quick.
"Your husband's been in a fatal boating accident." He checked the papers in his hand. "Treasure hunting off the coast of Cuba. On behalf of Monroe County PD, we're very sorry for your loss. We'll need you to come down to the station tomorrow. After you've had a moment to process, of course."
My chest heaved, and my mind erupted into a thousand questions, but I refused to believe him. I gripped the screen door with both hands to keep from falling. "I…I don't understand."
"Your husband's dead, Mrs. Drudge." He spoke with the sensitivity of saw grass.
Yes, I got that part. I just couldn't understand how.
Fatal boating accident? Bill was the best boat captain in town. He navigated the seas like he did his wife—carefully. I wasn't the easiest person to deal with, but he listened for the right breezes, searched good and proper for storm fronts, knew when to avoid thick clouds, when to spearhead right through them. He wouldn't have had a boating accident any more than he'd have accidentally forgotten to make my heart and body long for him every day and night he was away.
As the officers waited, an early morning conversation from two days ago haunted me. "Today's the day, Leanne, baby. I can feel it!" Bill had said, excited about his boating trip. He'd been studying the precise location of a lost Spanish galleon, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, for the last seven years. It was his chance to become more than just a lobster fisherman.
But something wasn't right. I felt it in my soul—a darkness.
I hadn't known how to tell him. He wouldn't have listened anyway. "Now, Leanne…" he would've said, "this isn't the time for your mumbo jumbo."
My intuition. It'd always been right in the past, and I should've stopped him from going. Now I looked at Officer Brady without words, and it all made sense.
"I can see you're in shock, Mrs. Drudge. I'll send someone else over, one of the ladies from the station, or—"
"I'm fine." My hand shook on the screen door. My world would never be the same again. What about our dreams? What about Mariel asleep in her crib? What was I supposed to do now?
Officer Brady glanced at the other patrolman by the car who smiled and nodded at him, a silent idea communicating between them. He turned back to me. "In that case, uh…" He removed his cap, pressed it against his chest. Rise of his left eyebrow. Taunting. Pushing limits. "Mind if we come in?"
I gaped at his lecherous brown eyes roving over me. Would the people of this town stop at nothing to judge me? Suddenly, I feared his authority with Bill nowhere near to save me. "No. Thank you for coming." Quickly, I closed the screen and locked the door.
For a long time, I stood there, staring at the door, feeling my world collapse around me. Then, I willed my feet to move and wandered through the house in a fog. I reached my bedroom and the bed's edge, sat staring at my reflection while the baby slept. He couldn't have perished. Not in a boating accident.
No, no. This was wrong, this was impossible.
I stood and moved to the kitchen to pour a shot of whiskey, then took it outside into my garden by the inlet. Downing the shot, I stared at the water. It took a moment, but the wave rising behind my chest finally spilled over. It rose until the tears formed, until I looked at the moon sculpture Bill had carved for me, thought I would die if I didn't let out the pain.
With a wail, I cursed at God. Told him it was no wonder I never believed in him in the first place. What kind of merciful god would do such a thing to a young woman with a baby? A good god would make sure my husband came home. And if he couldn't find that treasure he'd been searching for all his life, then he'd at least trap a few lobster to help pay the bills.
There was no God, just like there was no truth.
And now, there was nothing worth living for either.
Only my baby.
In the coming weeks, Bill's death was a well-publicized "fact" in Key West, even though there wasn't a scrap of evidence. But women like me, we don't take things at face value. We look past the smirks of the fact-people—the reporters, the police. We search beyond the veil. I'd even say we "know" things other people can't explain.
It wasn't no boating accident.
We never saw him again, Mariel and me, and the months dragged by with achingly slow precision. My one-year-old quickly forgot the spark of her father's laugh. She stopped glancing at the door in the evenings. And because my life had been cursed the day Bill disappeared at sea, I even lost my family home.
As a widowed mother with no income of her own, I was forced to sell the only tangible thing I had—Casa de los Cayos—the twenty-eight-year-old house where I'd grown up, married my husband, made Mariel out of love. I lost it to Susannah McCardle, of all people.
My neighbor, Susannah, had wanted my house from the moment her daughter, Violet, got married last year. A dozen times she'd asked me when I'd planned to move. She wanted to expand, move her daughter in next door, she told me. Make a family compound of the two homes.
Never was always my reply. This was my house, and my mama's before me.
Susannah would scoff and head indoors but always come back out for a smoke. My house needed paint, she'd argue. It needed TLC, a man to care for it whereas that lazy SOB of mine had done nothing but boat and chase gold, and now look at where that had left me. I should just sell it and move to a cheaper key, she'd tried convincing me.
I held on as long as I could—another year. Finally, I couldn't make payments no more. Only so many jars of key lime marmalade sold before the bank account ran dry. Susannah had won in the end. Now, her son-in-law who cut coquina for a living and her hateful bitch daughter, who did nothing but sit on her ass, would live in my house.
The shame hurt so bad, it burned a hole in my chest.
With Mariel in my arms, I crossed the gravel front yard, transporting the last of my belongings, stuffing as much as I could into the old Ford. The little girl from down the street watched me from her cross-legged position on the curb.
From her porch, Susannah watched with that over-plucked high eyebrow of hers. "Told you he would bite the dust out there, leave you like this." She sucked on her cigarette. "Probably ran into pirates or something."
"Shut up, Susannah. Nobody asked you."
"It's better this way, darlin'." She blew smoke into the late summer air and picked tobacco fragments from her teeth.
Meanwhile I tried to make the bicycle I'd bought a few years ago with the money I'd earned waitressing fit in the back. It wouldn't. "You want this?" I asked the little girl witnessing my shame. She stood and gaped, hardly believing I was offering up such a good thing. The bright blue bike was too big for her, but hell, she'd grow into it. Nodding, she took it off my hands.
The mosaic table Bill made me wouldn't fit into the truck either. Even Mariel tried telling me this with her big green eyes. Mama? Let it go.
How could I? He'd meticulously placed each piece of glass with his loving hands. I rested my head on the truck door, wanting to sob pathetically, but I quickly collected myself. I would not let Susannah have the glory of seeing me this way. I'd make this table fit in the car if it killed me.
"It's not going to fit, Leanne. Just leave the damn table behind."
"I'll decide what doesn't fit!" I spit. If I could've cast a swarm of flying daggers at her face, I'd have done it.
Damn it, the table wouldn't fit.
From her front porch, Susannah snickered.
Maybe after I got my life together in Plantation Key, I could save money, return to Key West, and buy back my house. "Don't get too comfortable," I told her, reluctantly leaving the mosaic table on the sidewalk. "I'll be back for it soon."
"Over my dead body, you will…"
Panting in the August heat, I paused to look at her. I absorbed her ugliness and toxic energy. The image would never be erased from my memory as long as I lived. Queen Victorious was most pleased now that this simple woman was not only heartbroken, but emotionally decimated as well. Why did she and everybody else hate me so? Because I didn't go to church? Because I felt more spiritual sitting in my herb garden than this town would ever be kneeling in the pews?
Over my dead body…
Yes. Maybe it would take that. But her dead body wasn't up to me. My mother had taught me that we didn't cause harm on others. Karma would take care of that. But I was also tired of living by the rules and getting screwed in the end. Tired of watching others' ships come in when mine was still lost at sea.
I closed my eyes and visualized Susannah McCardle's dead body, rotting, festering in the summer heat. Flies flitting into her mouth laying eggs. The police department knocking on her door. My house on the market again. Me earning it back. I could bend my mind around these visions, but I'd never been very good at manifesting dreams, or else my husband would still be here. I could only hope that Mariel would learn my mother and grandmother's ways better than I ever could.
Susannah tapped the porch railing. "Hello, Earth to Leanne." Her crooked smile matched her flyaway, graying hair.
Violet stepped onto the porch in curlers and short shorts, tapping her pack of cigarettes. "What's going on?"
"Leanne's finally leaving."
I wouldn't give them the satisfaction of a reply. I plopped into the grass to pet our black kitty. "We can't take you with us, Luna," I whispered. "Apartments don't allow magical creatures." I smiled on the verge of tears. Mariel reached out to Luna, too.
I closed my eyes to visualize.
I imagined no happiness—zero, not a single scrap of it—ever entering Casa de los Cayos again as long as I wasn't there to make it happen it. Mariel clung to me, so still, eyes wide. Baby girl knew what I was up to, already learning, showing respect for the craft. Wondering what sorcery Mama was conjuring up this time.
"May this house and all who live in it suffer." My voice shook. "For without us, it is no longer a home."
Blowing out slowly, I envisioned my charged breath traveling, crossing the lawn and curling around Susannah, Violet, and the entire McCardle Family. It snaked over to my property and enveloped that too. As I belted in Mariel and stepped into the driver's seat, cranking on the engine, I stared at Susannah one last time. It was hard to ignore the victory in her eyes.
My lovely pink and white home, like the inside of a conch shell, seemed to sag just then. It called to me, begged me not to go. Not to worry, I would make things right, even if it took a lifetime. I would be back, whatever it took.
"So mote it be," I whispered then drove off down Overseas Highway.