August 10, 2012 – Ghost Hunt
“Has anyone told you about the ghosts?” the captain asks me at lunch. He, the third officer, and I are the only ones in the mess room.
“Actually, yes,” I say. “The Filipinos told me yesterday.” But that doesn’t matter. He tells me the stories again of how they died. Those two poor chief officers. Death is the suddenest ending. At least in these guys’ cases it was. “What kind of ghosts are they?” I ask. I want to know if they’re friendly, sad, angry, or reluctant to leave the sea. Are they poltergeists? Are they seeking to cross over? “Have you seen them?”
“Yes,” he says matter of factly.
I can feel Dan, the third, listening in from behind me.
“And what did they do? Did they talk?”
“I’ve never heard of them talking or anyone talking to them,” the captain says.
They just appear and that’s all I can find out about these two ghosts. I don’t even know if they appear together or separately.
After lunch I go up to the bridge to talk with the second officer.
“Have you seen the ghosts?” I ask him.
Domin hasn’t seen these particular ones, but he tells me stories of a mysterious woman dressed in white with long hair and a pale face that his brother had seen more than once on a road in the Philippines. He tells me of practical jokes various crews have pulled on to scare each other using masks. He tells me of a giant bird he conjured up to try and scare his crewmates with. He’d said he’d seen it. That it was bigger than a man and could pluck him right off the deck if it wanted. Some of the crew wouldn’t go outside alone after dark after hearing that story. He tells me of vampires.
He says that many of the Filipinos think the chief officer ghosts are here for the ship’s protection.
“There’s no place for them in the life boat,” I say, pointing to the life boat seating chart posted on the wall. “We should have the third write them in. Ghost one and Ghost two,” I say, and motion at two empty seats on the chart. It wouldn’t be wise to leave them behind, would it? No one said anything about ghosts having to go down with a ship.
Just at that moment the third comes up to the bridge.
“I was just saying that we should write in seat assignments for the two ghosts,” I tell him.
“How a grown person can believe such things?!” he says with emotion; disbelief, a hint of incredulity, indignation. His opinion of the captain seems somewhat altered since the ghostly lunch talk.
“So you haven’t seen them?” I ask. I let the jest blend my words.
He shakes his head nearly imperceptibly. “They told me to go to the forward at night, close to midnight. I went and I saw nothing,” Dan says.
“Maybe you didn’t stay long enough,” Domin says.
“No,” Dan says. “I stayed there for a very big period of time.”
“Maybe because you don’t believe,” the second says.
“Maybe,” Dan replies.
“Maybe the ghost has to see if you believe first,” Domin says.
We talk ghosts a moment more then Dan leaves. He’s had enough of the supernatural.
Domin’s and my conversation moves from ghosts and vampires to accidents at sea. “Death that other sleep”, as one of my friends wrote in a poem, is just another way of life for these guys. It’s a dangerous life that they laugh off and live with. Then Domin tells me of some of the biggest storms he’s heard about or been in. “If you have a flash drive I can give you the pictures.”
“Okay,” I say. “That’d be great.” I excuse myself and go back away to do something “useful” in my room before dinner. “Thanks for the conversation,” I tell him. “I’ll see you later.”
Josko’s door is open and I stick my head in. “I’m doing an investigation for the F.B.I.,” I tell him. I’d told him that the bosun had said his men had thought I was a spy and it’s become a standing joke between Josko, Marius the electrician, and me. “Have you seen the ghosts?”
Josko hasn’t seen them, but he doesn’t disbelieve. And he tells me stories of more men that have died on ships. I’m beginning to wonder if I should just jump overboard now and save myself the trouble of dying some other way.
The next day I pass Domin in the stairway. We decide that I’ll come by his cabin and get the files after dinner before he takes rest at 8:00 in preparation for his midnight to four watch.
I go down late to dinner and I’m the only one in the room. Joe serves me my food and I’m almost finished when someone comes in from the kitchen. I turn around and look.
“Good evening,” I say.
It’s Charlton, one of the Filipino crew. He’d promised to take me and Josh up into one of the cranes on Sunday morning the day after the party, but he’d been too hung over and hadn’t come to get us. He’d seen me in the stairway afterwards and apologized profusely.
“Don’t worry about it,” I’d told him.
“I’ll take you,” he promised. “I promise I will. I didn’t want to come outside Sunday to the pool party when you were there because I was drunk and I was sad that I didn’t take you up like I said I would.”
“It’s okay,” I tell him. But I do want to go up into the cranes. Ever since Dan had told me how he hates going up every month to check the fire extinguishers I’ve wanted to go up there myself and see what they’re like.
“It’s okay?” Charlton asks, meaning do I mind his presence in the mess room. “You alone? I don’t disturb you?”
“Of course not,” I say. I motion the cadet’s seat and he takes it.
“I’ve wanted to talk to you,” he tells me. “But I didn’t have a chance before.” It’s a line I’m starting to hear a lot. These guys just want someone new to tell their stories to, someone new to show the pictures of their lives to. “When I first heard you were coming on ship I thought you’d be old. Third told me you were thirty-five or thirty-six and single. I couldn’t understand why you’d come on this kind of ship. I said, ‘Third, why would a girl of thirty-five or thirty-six, single, come on this type of ship?’ ‘Maybe she’s frustrated?’ Third said. ‘No, Third,’ I told him, ‘Maybe it’s a broken heart.’”
You guys talk more than girls, I want to say. I’m not sure exactly how I phrase it when I say it aloud, but Charlton replies, “Filipinos are the best for gossip and entertaining.” The same holds true for the officers too, at least the gossip part.
“Can I say something?” Charlton asks.
“Of course,” I say.
“It’s very nice to have you here.”
I smile. “Thank you.”
“To be honest,” he puts his hand out, touches me briefly on the shoulder, “I don’t want to say it wrong, but you give us something nice to look at.”
I begin to see myself through their eyes, in relation to the long time at sea they have with only themselves to keep each other company, with the hard work and the danger always at hand. No longer as a prize to be won or a female chased after, but as a friend, a diversion.
The stairway door opens and shuts and the officer mess room door opens. Josko comes in. “Good appetite,” he says.
“Good appetite,” I say.
Charlton starts, jumps off the chair and rushes off like a cockroach at the flick of a light switch, like a startled bird. “Sorry, Chief,” he says through the opening from the kitchen, “hello, Chief, I was just talking to Miss Amanda.”
“What is this to me?” Josko asks him, reaching into the bread box for some bread. “She’s over twenty-one.”
Thanks, I think, just throw me to the wolves. Thanks, I think, for letting me handle myself.
Josko takes his sandwich, gives me a grin and leaves. I’m done with my dinner and despite Joe’s dislike of me doing it, I take my plate into the kitchen area to the sink. It makes me feel more a part of the place rather than some elevated passenger guest. I like feeling at home. I feel at home.
Charlton wants to talk some more and he invites me into the crew’s mess room and we sit and drink water. He tells me more of his and the Third’s conversation about me. About their thoughts of what I would be like. Of how much it means to them, all of them, that I’m here.
I glance up at the clock. Although I haven’t yet had a chance to ask Charlton about ghosts and I’m comfortable here, I say, “I can’t stay long. I’m supposed to go up to the Second’s cabin to get some pictures from him to put on my flash drive before eight o’clock.”
“I’ll call him,” Charlton says, “We’ll go up together.” He calls Domin and it’s arranged. We head up a couple decks to the second’s cabin.
“Maybe we should call the other passenger Josh,” Charlton says. So he does. Hunts him down and invites him over. Domin pulls out a box of red wine from his fridge, rummages up some glasses, puts a can of nuts out on the table, makes an impromptu party. Charlton calls the bosun and invites him too.
It’s a real gathering.
They’re talking, trying to keep my attention, trying to make me laugh, trying to impress me with stories. We get on to ghosts and vampires without my initiation; a continuation of mine and Domin’s conversation of the day before.
“If vampire were as beautiful as Miss Amanda,” the bosun says, “I’d let it bite me.” He turns his
head, stretches his neck to bare the skin, as if to let a vampire bite him right then and there.
“You’d be vampire,” Domin laughs, “you’d let her bite you and then you’d be a vampire. Make your whole family vampire.”
The bosun smiles. It’s a smile like a flash of delight; brief, boyish, quickly gone. “I’d let her bite me,” he says again. Traces the space of his neck.
I shake my head. Beauty is in the beholder. To them I’m beautiful. They’d let me do nearly anything.
The second’s phone rings. “It’s for you,” he tells Charlton. That’s how quickly news travels. Everyone knows where everyone is. “It’s Third.”
Charlton promises again to take Josh and me up into the crane. Bosun and Second, the rest of us, talk about keeping promises. Charlton wants to take us up right then. I’m for it. Someone is worried about the darkness. About the wine.
“I’m not drunk,” I say.
“Maybe better some other time,” Domin says.
“Maybe,” I concede. But I want to go now. I want to chance a meeting out in the dark with the ghosts. I want to venture up into the towers of the cranes. There’s no time like the present.
“We’ll go,” Charlton promises.
It’s past 8:00. It’s close to 9:00 and I’m worried that we’re eating up all of Domin’s rest time. The bosun finishes his glass of wine and excuses himself. Domin pours out the last of the box of wine equally between all of us and then Charlton winks at us and he, Josh and I go out together.
Domin repeats that some other safer time would be better.
“We won’t go now,” I say. “We’ll be safe.” I’m not sure which is a lie.
He watches us step over the threshold and into the stairway. The door closes behind us.
“We go now?” Charlton asks.
“Okay. Sure.” I have a twinge of conscience for my insincere promise to the second. “I need to grab my sweater and my camera,” I say.
“We meet you at the ship office in five minutes,” he says, and he and Josh disappear.
I collect my things. I leave my door open and walk down to the lowest deck and wait for the boys by the office door. I don’t really believe in the ghosts. But if they’re around I want to see them. I want to ask them if there is a sea in heaven.
[We assume our deaths will come at night,
Spreading down over the hills,
Slipping from under the trees.
Death that other sleep,
The long soft dreaming.
Ah, no --
Death is more of loss than gain:
They cry before they sleep
– (c) Stephane Clark 2002]