I don’t know whether I’m scared or excited… maybe I’m both.
Callie Lawson drew a deep breath as she stared at the electrified fencing that encased the lot. This wasn’t her area of expertise – not even slightly. She was an astronaut. Just because she believed in aliens didn’t mean she had to believe in… other things. Still, she had a ‘reputation’, whatever that meant.
She reached out her hand, scolding herself internally when she noticed the trembling in her muscles. The door swung open at her touch, and her jaw dropped.
It was there. Against all she knew to be true, it was there. The quarry, normally a simple hole in the ground, was filled with… well, she wasn’t sure. The ship bobbed gently up and down in the substance.
There’s no such thing as ghosts.
She skirted the edge of the pit to the stack of wood she had stored during the daylight. Her training wouldn’t have allowed her to come here unprepared – regardless of her disbelief. Better safe than dead.
She began to work, building a rudimentary bridge to the back of the ship. For the front it had seemed intact, but it was a wreck. At least half the ship was missing – likely torn off from the way the wood was bent and splintered. She half expected her bridge to pass through the floorboards like air, but it remained in place. The ship was solid, for now at least.
Carefully she stepped onto the bridge. It didn’t move. She took each step hesitantly, afraid that one wrong move and she would be lost forever. It had happened before – that was why she was here. The town couldn’t cope with any more lost souls.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped onto the deck. She looked at the sky for what she hoped would not be the last time and walked into the room in front of her. It was small, dusty and, at a glance, completely empty. She turned to walk back out, but before she could her foot caught on something. A trap door? She felt around in the darkness for the handle and swung the door up on its hinges. There was light down below.
Surely this couldn’t be the same ship, she thought as she looked around. This wasn’t a wreckage, it was as seaworthy as any vessel she’d seen before. The only thing that kept her grounded in reality was the fact that she could see the ‘water’ faintly through the walls that surrounded her. Still, the food looked real, and the candles gave off warmth and light, and – ouch. The knives were definitely sharp. Sticking her finger in her mouth to stop the bleeding, she looked through the other rooms, coming to a halt in one in particular. It was a beautiful study, well cared for and – if the ink spots on the rug were anything to go by – well used. They almost looked fresh. She bent down to touch them, and her fingers came away stained and damp.
Someone else was here with her.
There’s no such thing as ghosts. There’s no such thing as ghosts.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
Callie wasn’t sure how much time had passed, there were no windows this far down. She’d explored floor after floor, looking for anything that could give her a clue as to why the ship insisted on appearing in the middle of a desert. It made no sense.
She wasn’t sure if her mind was playing tricks on her. Everywhere she went, she found little hints that she wasn’t the only one aboard. Movement teased at the edge of her field of vision, only to vanish when she turned to get a better look.
She sighed as she approached the trap door at the end of the hallway. Would this ever end?
The first thing she saw as she stepped off the stairs was a large, comfortable bed. Her body groaned at the sight, begging her to rest. She probably would have given in if it weren’t for what she saw stashed in the corner.
Wow… I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s so beautiful.
There was a loud crash from behind her, and all the lights went out.
The suit of armour buried its sword deep into the floor, cracking the boards and sending up a cloud of dust. A small figure came into view, blood-red and furious.
“What are you doing?”
She couldn’t answer. Her mouth was moving but no sound came out.
It grabbed her and threw her across the room. Callie hit the wall above the bed with a crack, and fell heavily. A spring dug into her leg.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” it yelled as it sped over to her and held its face inches from her. “I swore to protect the crew, and if you have hurt even one of them-”
“The crew? There are more of you?”
It wrenched her up into a sitting position, uncaring about the cry of pain that the action caused.
“What do you mean, ‘more of you’?” it said, its voice now a menacing whisper.
“More ghosts” she gasped through the sobs that were catching in her throat. She wouldn’t give it the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
“I AM NOT A GHOST”
The furniture began to shake as the spirit glowed brighter. “SHE SAID SHE’D BE BACK FOR ME. SHE PROMISED.”
“SHE SAID THAT SHE’D TAKE CARE OF THEM”
Callie curled up as the bed began to float. She was going to die.
The bed fell to the floor with a thump, and she opened her eyes to see the creature standing there, tears running down its cheeks.
“I’m not dead.”
It was a child, barely four foot tall. The red light had been replaced with a deep blue, and its – no, her – body trembled. Water dripped down from the old fashioned clothes and formed puddles on the floor. Callie knew what that meant. The poor child had drowned.
She pushed herself up on the bed, wincing as she swung her legs around and her feet reached the floor.
“I can’t be dead. She said she’d protect us. Protect me.”
Callie flinched, prepared for another onslaught, but it never came.
“The other pirates. From the big ship painted with scorpions. Mother said that they were weak, and we would win. She’s the captain.” The girl’s chest puffed out with pride for a moment, and then she slumped down again. “She was the captain.”
Callie put a hand to her head and tried to massage away the headache she felt building. She was even less qualified for this expedition than she’d thought. She knew nothing about children at all. As for the ghost aspect, she was still reeling. It was easier to just pretend she was dealing with a normal child. She snorted – it’s not like she was particularly brilliant even then.
“I’m sorry, I’m not very good at this. What’s your name?”
“Well, Miss Price, I don’t quite know how I can help. Where were you heading before… well, you know.”
She felt cold seep through her veins as Lori touched her hand. She shivered, and when she looked again she was in a different room. It was the study from before. The only difference was that the water was no longer kept out by the walls. The ship was starting to fade.
“We were going to the port in Willow Cove. We’d made the journey so many times. There was a man there who would buy the things we looted and sell them to the rich folk in the towns. We’d stock up on food and clothes and… he’s dead too, isn’t he?”
The spirit disappeared from her side. Callie heard the faint sounds of crying echoing through the room and sighed. She’d really screwed that up.
She yelped as the books in front of her levitated from the table and the wailing got louder. She’d heard of banshees, but that was something separate, right? She would be safe as long as things didn’t start flying again. She had to do something, and she had to do it fast. She had very little time until she, too, would be lost. Just another statistic in an unsolved case file.
“Stay with me?” the voice asked.
“Why don’t you stay with me?” Callie blurted out, then covered her mouth. She hadn’t thought that through. Could the girl even leave the boat?
The train of thought was interrupted by the return of the light. At first she panicked, thinking that the sun had risen and she had run out of time. Then she saw the candles.
“What did you say?”
Callie steeled herself and repeated the offer. “Come and stay with me. Get away from this place.”
“What if my mother returns?”
“Not all spirits stay here. Most move on to whatever waits for us.”
“Why didn’t I?”
She thought for a moment. She had no clue why any of this was happening.
“Maybe because you didn’t get a chance to live out this life.”
“But I’m dead.”
Please don’t remind me…
“I’ll level with you. I didn’t even believe in ghosts until tonight. I don’t know what’s possible – but anything is better than being trapped here on your own.”
“You would really take me with you?”
“Yes, I would.”
“What am I doing?” Callie muttered, pacing the floor outside her bedroom. They had left the lot as the sun began to rise and turned to see the last remains of the apparition disappear in the soft light.
Lori had watched it go.
How would it feel to watch the world as you knew it just fade away in front of your eyes, she wondered. Lori was asleep now, curled up on the now damp double bed. There were puddles all over the floor.
There is a ghost on my bed. A ghost.
She wasn’t a mother. She’d never had parents or siblings. She had always been alone, and had no idea how to be anything else. They were both alone.
Maybe that would change. Whatever happened, she would do her best for the girl. They could be alone, together. A new chance at ‘life’ for the both of them. She dragged an armchair into the room and curled up on it as her eyes closed and sleep began to take her. The last thing she saw was the small figure curled up on her bed. Everything would be different when she woke up. The world was already a different place than it had been yesterday.
I don’t know whether I’m scared or excited… maybe I’m both.
July 2016 entry for the Short Story Challenge on the Sims forums. 1809 words, 15 screencaps. Prompt: ‘I Open with the Close”