The Adventure on Cannibal Island

By Amanda Cardini, Co-editor

It’s a familiar experience – you go back to a place you haven’t been to since you were a kid and find that it’s nowhere near as big as you recall. Or you reminisce on something that happened to you as a child and your parents inform you that that’s not exactly how it happened; it’s just your young imagination warping your memories. The world looks different through a child’s eyes. Memories and places seem bigger to those in their youth, and experiences can come across differently than they would have if you had experienced them as an adult.

When I was in seventh grade I wrote the following short story for a school assignment. It’s about an experience I had at a sailing summer camp where my class visited the famed Cannibal Island, a tiny stretch of land just off the beach where camp was held. We had heard legends about the place for years; camp counselors, and even some of our parents, had told us stories of people who visited the island and never returned, as well as the odd noises that had been heard coming from it for years…

Courtesy of The Decanteur

Cannibal Island is just off of Tod’s Point beach in Greenwich, Connecticut, where my cousins and I did a day sailing camp each summer. It’s not very big and is covered in tick-infested trees and moss. There are rocks all over it, big and small. When it’s low tide, rocks stick out of the ocean, making it really hard to get onto the island. It was on the ninth day of camp that our counselor, Michelle, decided to take us there.

We set out in kayaks. The instant that we got ten feet from the island our paddles hit the ocean floor and the huge rocks within. We had to get out and drag our kayaks onto land. Once on the island, the first thing I did was peel my feet out of my water shoes and put them in my kayak. I looked up to see everyone looking at a tick-eaten, ripped up couch with three kids sitting on it next to a huge boulder. We recognized them as kids from the upper division of camp.

“Who is your counselor?” Michelle asked.

“Richard,” one of the girls replied. “We were exploring and he was right behind us but when we looked back he was gone.”

“Well, let’s go look for him,” Michelle sighed. “Everyone stay close, and don’t wander off.”

We climbed over a few big rocks and saw an opening in the forest of trees. We started through them and saw millions of beer bottles and 7 Up cans lying on the ground. After walking past thorny bushes and moss-covered trees for minutes (though it seemed hours) we heard it.

A faint, staticky, whining noise was coming from somewhere up ahead. Everyone was already on edge about being on the island because of the stories we had been told, but the effect this little noise had on everyone was amazing; my best friend Jillian and I linked arms, one of my cousins looked as though he might cry, some kids backed away and others looked around frantically for the source. No one said a word as Michelle led us on.

The noise was getting louder — so loud it could have been inside my ear. But it was coming from something on the ground.

Greenwich beach. Courtesy of Russell Pruner Houlihan Lawrence

Michelle bent over and brushed off some of the dirt. It was a walkie-talkie going out of control. The label on the back said “Richard.” Everyone gasped as she turned it over in her hands, but I was looking off into a thicket of trees at something red, barely visible.

“What is that?” I thought aloud, pointing at it. Everyone looked as Michelle led us around a bend and under a very thorny tree; we had to hold it back to get through. And there was Richard.

The red thing I had seen was his life vest. He was tied by the shoulders of the vest to a thick branch on a tree. There were lots of footprints on the dirt around him, with a shovel lying against a rock next to the tree. Michelle rushed over to untie him, asking what happened.

“I don’t know,” he said, looking like he was searching for any memory he might have. “I just remember getting hit in the head with a shovel.”

Everyone’s eyes darted to the shovel on the rock.

“It must have been the cannibals,” a boy whispered.

The whole group gasped, and people looked around anxiously as if expecting one to come out of a tree at any moment.

“Let’s get out of here,” Michelle advised. “We’ll go around the island instead of the way we came.”

We were back to where we started when we saw it – the big boulder next to the couch had been scratched on to form a message: BEWARE! LEAVE NOW OR BE DOOMED.

Courtesy of Diane Dutcher Greenwich Homes

Not one single person looked the slightest bit brave at that. We all pushed our kayaks out in the water as fast as we could until we could hop in and paddle away.

Maybe it was a prank that the upper division kids played on us. But my uncles have camped out on Cannibal Island and told us there were weird noises, enough to where they left the island in the middle of the night. But it probably wasn’t real.

I was eleven years old that summer, and while the memories still feel real, when I read the story I wrote about now, it’s clear the whole thing was a ridiculous prank. Adult intuition tells me a camp would never allow a counselor to take kids to an island where cannibals lived (and also tells me that an island with cannibals would probably not be found in Greenwich, Connecticut). But to a kid anything is possible; it all seemed real.

The famed sounds coming from the island are probably the sounds of young adults (not cannibals) who sailed or kayaked there to camp and party in solitude, as evidenced by the beer cans. It seems likely to be some sort of tradition for the camp counselors to encourage the legends so that they could take their group of kids to the island for a thrilling adventure. And of course, the teenagers in the upper divisions of camp would gladly join in on the theatrics. But at a young age, these things don’t add up as well. Kids are more apt to believe a story, if not because they trust those telling it then because they want to believe in the adventurous side of life. I know the truth now.

When I jumped out of my kayak that day at eleven years old, I was cut by one of the jagged rocks in the water. I still have a scar today to remind me of the adventure I had there and of how thrilling the world seemed as a child.

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