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The Prisoner of Hell Gate book. Read 77 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. FOUR DECADES AFTER TYPHOID MARY WENT TO HER.
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And by the changing skyline across the way. When lightning strikes the bent rod atop the old foghorn tower, she grunts aloud, thinking maybe Mathilde will hear her — Mathilde, whose hatred burns so hot and strident. Next to it, Mary's bitterness throbs like a dull ache. No less intense, only of a different texture. She leaves the building and walks down to the pebbly shore, follows it along as the rain starts to fall in fat drops, hissing through tree leaves.

The island has the shape of an amoeba. She traces its outline with her path, callused feet insensible to the sharp rocks and broken bits of iron and twigs and thorns. When the lightning flashes again, she sees more ghostly forms, mostly women and children. They lie atop submerged pebbles, river water fluttering what remains of their clothing the way breeze stirs the frayed wings of a decaying moth.

The sight of them no longer surprises her — not even their charred and blistered faces, their stump fingers, their pleading stone-dead eyes. Is that water or trapped air or fistfuls of posies bulging their pockets? She may never know. They lie beyond her reach. Fire always factors into life's most plaintive moments, does it not? No matter whether it comes from outside or within.

Mathilde harries her all the way along the path in the muddy woods and through the door and up the steps and down the hall and into the old laboratory, where she stops. Blue lightning illuminates in flashes the damp dusty room, and she sees George A. Soper standing there, imperious. Stiff like his instruments. She clutches the sturdy carving fork in her fist, eighteen inches long, the tines sharpened. She had it in hand when they first pursued her, and she will never let it go. But he is gone, long dead.

The Prisoner of Hell Gate: A Novel by Dana I. Wolff, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

The points of the fork bury themselves in the wooden cabinet. Its shaft twangs, vibrating at a high frequency. She outlived Soper — has long outlived all those who strapped her down and had their way with her. She squeezes a drop of water from her hair into her palm and licks what tastes like vinegar.

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It eats the island hardscape. The world changes but she does not. The world ages. She maintains. Sometimes — rarely nowadays — men visit the island. Never to stay. Only to check on things or to snap pictures. She hid from them all these years, but must she forever? The storm is passing. It leaves behind the scent of electricity and rotting fish. And a sense that something is different this time, her environment altered. No living person stands across from her in the dark laboratory, yet the man's terrible presence persists longer than it ever has.

The Prisoner of Hell Gate : A Novel

Karalee Soper sits on the back bench of a Boston Whaler, cruising down the East River with four of her closest friends. The Nikon replaced a Canon that she had owned from freshman year of high school straight through college, her first 35 mm and her first love. For eight years she carried that camera everywhere, wearing through three cases and yearning for a darkroom where she could develop her own shots.

She carried it so incessantly that it made her father jealous, and he would tease her about it, sometimes hide it from her, other times cover his face with his hat to ruin her shot. That camera was the first thing his eyes settled upon when she told him more than a year and a half ago that she might want to change her career plans. He threw it so hard that it exploded against the stone kitchen wall of their house in Pelham, the lens cap catching her left ear as it sailed by, cutting her.


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The scar on her ear itches sometimes. It remains fresh and pink, a thin line running from the antihelix — she knows her anatomy — through the scapha to the helix.

But the loss of the camera disturbs her worse than the damage to her body. She wishes she'd had the reflexes to snatch that camera out of midair. Instead, it shattered against the wall into thirty-nine pieces — she counted them through tears — the same number of lashes that Jesus received.

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Although her father apologized when the blood began flowing, the broken camera felt like that kind of loss to her at the time, like religious-scale suffering. She mourned for two weeks and acquired the new Nikon with her own money, saved from busing tables over two summers. Although she couldn't afford to buy it outright, she made the down payment with a few bucks to spare.

Thirteen more months, and she'll have it paid off. On the way downriver from Poughkeepsie, she shot an entire roll of film, mostly taking portraits of her friends, they who playfully call themselves the Sewer Rats. She is profligate with film — can't help herself — but that improves the odds of a great shot. For instance, she snapped half a dozen pictures of Chick at the helm, and one or two actually might have come out quite well.

Hell's Gate

His round, red-cheeked face glowed in the early sun, his gaze falling on the Tappan Zee Bridge as they prepared to pass under it. And she may have captured a characteristic gesture of Josh's, the way he pushes the black-framed glasses back up his nose with the knuckle of his pinky finger.

But she got only one of those, and it's entirely possible she had the shutter set too slow and it blurred. She snapped a good picture of Gerard, she thinks, in his San Diego baseball cap, reading a mass-market paperback copy of Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song, holding it up in front of his buff, bare, hairless chest, soft Korean eyes riveted on the words like nothing else existed in the world at that moment.

Gerard, so easily distracted in other respects, focuses like a laser on printed words.

She may very well have done her best work so far with Estela, getting the Spaniard in midconversation, that flamboyant sweep of her black hair, the waving around of that half-dead arm of hers. In one unself-conscious motion — frozen in film, Karalee hopes — Estela flaunted her determination not to let anything hinder her, least of all her physical limitations.

Karalee lifts the camera to her eye again as their boat, the Flagellum, enters an area of the East River known as Hell Gate.

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But there's nothing worth noting in the frame. No one doing anything interesting, and the skyline behind them looks dull in the haze. She feels a rumble from the boat's engine, which springs to life like an animal newly alert, and although she never held the wheel, she has a sense that the river is resisting them here. The engine's vibrations travel up through the soles of her bare feet — up through her hamstrings and the small of her back, too — and flutter her guts.

Something like the feeling she knows from trips to Rye Playland, when the Dragon Coaster takes a precipitous drop, and for one fleeting second you confront your own mortality. But the river today holds no further sense of drama. It is stippled only by the tiniest waves. Thirty minutes ago, Josh began calling out random public health facts, such as the amount of effluent that used to pour untreated into the waters around Manhattan and how yellow fever arrived from Barbados at the end of the seventeenth century.

Now this casual recitation has segued into a full-blown lecture, Karalee listening with only half a mind. She looks out across the river and notes how the urban enterprise overwhelms what little bits of nature they can see.

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Buildings tower over trees. Bridges disrupt the sweep of the river. Planes and boats force waterbirds to the margins, where the Sewer Rats saw a few ducks and herons on the way down.