Captain Elizabeth and the Ghost Ship

Here’s another short story I wrote for some friends of mine. Hope you enjoy it.

 

Captain Elizabeth and the Ghost Ship

By Silas Champion

IMG_0597Captain Elizabeth stared out over the dark still waters of the ocean. Not a breath of wind stirred. A full moon climbed slowly from the ocean. Only the creaking and groaning of the ship broke the silence.

“Not going anywhere tonight, are we?” Emmey strolled across the deck, her sword clanking.

“Nothing worse than a calm,” Captain Elizabeth said. “We haven’t had wind for two days.” Captain Elizabeth and her crew weren’t afraid of pirates, storms, paper cuts, angry birds, the dark, or even sea monsters. The bravest crew and the best ship can’t sail if there’s no wind, though.

“The crew is restless,” Emmey said. “They don’t like sitting around.”

Elizabeth chuckled. “They don’t like all the cleaning I make them do when we’re sitting still.”

Emmey nodded. “That’s true.” At that moment they could hear Phoebe yelling at Logan for getting one of her precious cannons dirty. Phoebe was in charge of the cannons and took care of them like they were babies.

“It’s the passengers I don’t like,” Emmey said. “That skulking MacBride gives me the willies.”

“You never like anybody.” Elizabeth adjusted her jacket. “But I agree with you. He’s a little odd.”

“Ship ho!” shouted Harrison from the lookout’s post where he spent most of his time.

“A ship?” Elizabeth shouted. “Where?”

“To the starboard side,” came the call. Elizabeth and Emmey walked to the right side of the ship. Sure enough, in the moonlight they could see a ship on the horizon. Unlike their ship, though, it was moving.

“How are they moving?” Elizabeth pulled out her battered, golden spyglass. It wasn’t much use in the dark, so they just watched as the ship drew closer.

“That makes no sense.” Emmey looked up at the unmoving sails. “How can they get wind if we can’t?”

“I don’t know, but you better have Phoebe prepare the cannons.” Elizabeth turned. “Quietly, though. Do it quietly.” Emmey hurried away.

“Is that a ship?” The passenger MacBride came up behind Elizabeth. She turned and put her hand on her sword. Captain Elizabeth did not like anyone standing behind her.

“Yes, it is.”

“How is it moving?” he asked.

Captain Elizabeth shrugged. “We don’t know. Why don’t you go back to your cabin? We’ll figure it out.” That man did not go back to his cabin, which irritated Captain Elizabeth. She liked for everyone on her boat to do what she said.

Instead the man moved the rail and pointed. “It’s a ghost ship. It’s a ghost ship! Look at it!” Indeed, as the ship got closer it seemed to be sailing without a crew. Nobody moved on its deck and the tattered sails hung still.

Yet the ship didn’t move like an abandoned ship rocking carelessly on the waves. No, the ship moved in a straight, silent line. Its path would take it right past Elizabeth’s ship, the Flying Turtle. It moved in utter silence, unlike MacBride, who started moaning.

“It’s a ghost ship, it’s a ghost ship,” he repeated as he ran down the rail. Soon everybody crowded on deck, watching the mysterious ship. Excited murmurs ran through the crews and the passengers. The ship did not turn to the right or left; it just kept moving in absolute silence. Soon everyone on deck fell silent. If they spoke at all it was in whispers. Emmey returned.

“Phoebe is ready with the cannons,” she whispered.

Elizabeth nodded. “We won’t fire unless it turns toward us.”

“How is it moving at all?” Emmey put her hand on her sword. “It doesn’t make sense.” Whispers of “ghost ship” could be heard over the creaking of the ship. “Clear all these people off the deck.”

Elizabeth sighed. “I would rather haul stuff than people any day. Even cows would be less trouble.”

“Probably would smell worse though.” Emmey turned and strode through the crowd, quietly but firmly telling them to leave. Most of them left immediately, and all of them did after she threatened to beat them with her sword. Customer service was not her strong suit. Elizabeth stayed on the deck, watching the strange ship. As it passed in front of her ship she thought she heard the faint sounds of a fiddle.

Jonathon came up on deck and stood beside her. “What do you think it is, Captain?”

“Uh, I think it’s a ship. What’s wrong with your eyes?”

“But how is it … ?”

“I don’t know why it’s moving.” Elizabeth cut him off. “You’re the carpenter, you tell me how that would work.”

“Uh, I don’t know. There’s no wind.”

“I don’t pay you to tell me what I already know,” Captain Elizabeth said. Jonathon didn’t reply. They watched the ship until a thick fog moved in and covered it over.

“Well, that was creepy,” Jonathon said before walking away.

Nobody slept much on the ship that night. The passengers huddled in their cabins and the crew kept a vigilant watch. The strange ship did not return. When the sun came up, it burned away the fog, but the wind did not return. Elizabeth called everyone on deck for a meeting.

“I realize last night was strange, but there is no need for alarm. The sun is up this morning and the ship is gone. The wind will return soon.”

“Strange? Ha! It was more than strange.” MacBride stepped forward. “It was a ghost ship!” Everyone else nodded and murmured in agreement.

Elizabeth held up her hands. “There is no such thing as a ghost ship. Everyone calm down.”

“Ha, shows what you know,” MacBride said. “It’s the Fiddling Maid. Everyone knows that story, right?” He looked at the crowd. “The pirate ship that sailed the seas around here many years ago.” The crowd stopped talking and listened intently.

MacBride went on, “The captain had a daughter who played the fiddle. One day they attacked a ship and took an old woman prisoner. When they took the old woman’s rings she cursed them.” He looked at everyone with wild eyes. “She was a witch.”

“What did she say?” a rapt listener asked.

“She told them that they would all be doomed to sail forever and that his daughter would be forced to play the fiddle forever.”

“What do you mean, forever?” Logan asked. “How could anyone play forever? Wouldn’t the fiddle wear out? I mean, what about the strings?”

MacBride ignored him and raised his voice. “So now they sail the seven seas and anyone who meets them will sink to the depths and die.” Somebody actually screamed.

“We met them and we are still here,” Emmey pointed out.

“We were lucky.” MacBride’s eyes got big. “They will be back again, and we will all die.” More screams and murmurs rippled through the crowd.

“I still don’t see how they could sail forever,” Logan said. “Wouldn’t the ship wear out? What happens if they start leaking?”

“Why do you ask so many questions?” MacBride shouted.

“He does ask a lot of questions,” Elizabeth stepped forward. “But he’s not wrong, and if I hear any more about a ghost ship I’m going to have Phoebe here whack you over the head.” MacBride looked at Phoebe, who was holding a small club. He looked back at Captain Elizabeth.

“I’ll be in my cabin.” He stomped away. Phoebe looked disappointed that no whacking would be required.

Elizabeth turned to the crowd. “Now clear my deck.” The passengers grumbled, but they slowly cleared the deck.

Elizabeth faced her crew. “We have some work to do.”

The rest of the day passed slowly. The sound of hammers and saws filled the air. Some of the passengers tried to see what was happening, but one look at Phoebe and her club sent them scurrying away.

As darkness fell, everyone gathered on deck or at the windows to see what would happen. Everyone but Captain Elizabeth, that is. As the crowd watched for the ship, she slipped into the water. The water was cold, but Elizabeth really didn’t mind. She pushed the tiny raft that they’d built earlier out into the dark water. Jonathan manned the rope that kept her attached to the ship.

♠ ♠ ♠

IMG_0593For three hours, nothing happened. The moon rose, but the sea remained empty. One by one, the watchers drifted away, convinced that their beds would be better than waiting for a ship that wasn’t coming. MacBride, though, paced the deck, grumbling to himself. Captain Elizabeth bobbed on the water, waiting. Just after Emmey rang the midnight bell, the ship appeared on the horizon again. Captain Elizabeth had told Harrison not to call out, but soon MacBride spotted the ship and started yelling.

The whole deck filled, and Elizabeth wished she’d let Phoebe whack him after all. Just like the night before, the ship glided quietly across the sea. Unlike the night before, clouds moved in and covered the moon. Nobody could see the tiny raft floating across the water toward the ghost ship. Elizabeth swam silently right up behind the ship. Even ghosts don’t see well in the dark, apparently, for the ship remained quiet. It creaked and popped, but nothing else stirred. She caught a rope that hung down to the water. After tying it to her raft, she clambered silently aboard and pulled out her sword.

Still nothing moved on the ship. Captain Elizabeth did not believe in ghosts, but she had to admit the silence was creepy. After pausing a moment, she crept slowly across the deck. At that exact moment, a sad fiddle tune came up from below decks. Elizabeth started. I mean, she’s not afraid of anything, but sudden fiddle music on a creepy boat would make anybody start. After a moment or two, she determined that the sound came from what would be the captain’s cabin. Quietly, she moved to a window and peeked inside. A small girl stood in front of a music stand, playing the fiddle. A tiny, flickering candle lit her sad, round face.

“That’s no ghost,” Elizabeth thought. Then she noticed a thick rope running from the girl’s ankle to the wall. The girl was a prisoner. Elizabeth eased around to the door, careful to walk softly on the deck. Slowly, she opened the door, cringing as it creaked on its hinges. The little girl gasped and stopped playing with a squeak. Her eyes got big as cups and she opened her mouth.

“Shhh!” Elizabeth put her finger over her mouth. The girl still looked scared but she didn’t scream. Elizabeth pretended to play the fiddle as she stepped into the room. The girl nodded and started playing again. She watched Elizabeth with her big eyes. Captain Elizabeth walked into the room and sliced the rope with her sword. The girl smiled but didn’t stop playing.

“Are you alone?” she asked. The girl shook her head but didn’t say anything. Elizabeth crept back outside and moved quietly along the deck.

“You better not stop again,” an angry voice shouted up from below the deck. After looking around, Elizabeth realized that everyone was below deck. Slowly and quietly, she closed the hatch, trapping all of them inside. After that she went back to the cabin.

“We are getting you out of here,” she said. The girl nodded again. Faint thumping sounded and soon Phoebe, Jonathon, and Logan appeared on the deck. All of them were armed with all the weapons they could carry.

“What is it?” Phoebe whispered, looking at the girl still playing her fiddle.

“Follow me,” Elizabeth said. Just then, loud pounding and shouting came from the hatch door.

“Good day, gentlemen,” Captain Elizabeth called. “Your hatch seems to be battened down.” The pounding stopped.

“I don’t know who you are, girl, but you’re dead.”

“And here I thought you lads were the ghosts.” Elizabeth laughed. “Now, are you going to play nice, or do we have to set this ship on fire?” The men shouted and raged for a while, but finally they settled down.

“Fine, what do you want?” the grouchy man shouted.

“I want you to come out here one at a time without any weapons.” The men below didn’t respond, so she raised her voice. “Alright, Phoebe, light the fire.” Phoebe lit an oily rag and held it out over the hatch. It made a lot of smoke and smelled terrible.

“Wait! Wait! We’ll come out. We’ll come out,” the man shouted. Jonathon opened the hatch, and one by one they straggled out. They were a hard-looking bunch of rascals and none of them seemed very happy at the moment.

“Can I shoot this one?” Phoebe asked every time a new one came out.

“Not yet, Phoebe,” Captain Elizabeth said. At last all the men stood on the deck. Elizabeth paced in front of them while Jonathon and Logan inspected the ship for any stragglers. Phoebe stood behind Elizabeth with her gun trained on the men.

“What exactly did you men have planned with your little ghost ship trick?” she asked. None of the men said anything so she turned to Phoebe. “Which one would you like to shoot first?”

“We were planning on taking your ship, girl,” the grumpy man said. He looked like he’s just eaten a whole bowl of lemons. “We scare ships so we don’t have to destroy them. That way we can sell the whole ship later.”

“What about the girl?”

“Oh well, you know the legend, we needed a fiddle player.”

“Well, I like your plan,” Elizabeth said, “I believe this ship will be worth a lot of money.” Jonathon popped up from under the deck.

“They’ve got a paddle wheel thing down here,” he said. “That’s how they could move.”

“That should add to the value,” Elizabeth said.

“You can’t just take our ship.” The lemon-faced man stepped forward.

“Why not? You were going to take ours. You’re nothing but pirates.”

“I won’t lose my ship to some girl,” the man snarled. He stepped forward again and Phoebe whacked him on the head. He collapsed in a heap on the deck.

“Anybody else got something to say?” Elizabeth put her hand on her sword. Nobody had anything to say. She looked at Phoebe. “Feel better now?” Phoebe nodded.

Once they determined there was nobody else on board, they put all the men back down under the deck. After a few more threats, they began operating the paddle wheel. It was harder now because Elizabeth’s ship was tied behind, so they were moving two ships. Leaving Phoebe and Jonathon to guard the ship, Elizabeth took the little girl back to the Flying Turtle.

“Who’s this?” Emmey said as she helped them aboard.

“This is Ming.” Elizabeth patted the girl’s head. “She doesn’t say much but she plays the fiddle.”

“Hey, that’s good. We haven’t had a fiddle player in some time.”

“I know.” She turned to Logan. “Get Ming some food. The poor girl is hungry.” Logan took Ming away and MacBride walked up to her.

“What happened?” he asked.

“It turns out your ghosts weren’t as scary as you thought,” Elizabeth said. MacBride didn’t reply. He just walked away grumbling.

“I guess he is not a satisfied customer,” Emmey said.

“Well, he paid in advance, so it doesn’t matter.” Elizabeth walked to the bow of the ship as the ship slowly moved through the calm water. This trip had turned out better than she’d planned.

 

 

 

 

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