Author: Meatball (Lynn McEachern)
Summary: This story is a work of fiction. The places are real, but the characters aren't. A spooky little Halloween story.
Author's Note: I wrote this for a Halloween story contest for the local newspaper a couple of years ago, and was beyond thrilled when it came in first place!
This story is a work of fiction. While the places are real, the characters are not, and any similarities between the story and the characters to real people or real stories is completely coincidental. This story is not based on any story that I've heard...I just made it all up.
THE GHOST BOATS
"So did you guys ever hear the one about the ghost boats?"
It was late on a Friday night, a chilly Friday night back in October, 1979, when a bunch of us were sitting in the camping tent pitched on Rob Dees' lawn. There was me,(Candace Kane, a name for which I still haven't forgiven my parents), Shiela, Krista, Rob and Dan - my best friends from my junior high school years - and we had a pile of munchies, and a flashlight, which we would hold underneath our chins to give our faces a creepy look while we were trying to spook each other with ghost stories. So far they'd been your normal run-of-the-mill stories. You know, the haunted graveyard, the haunted house, the local boogeyman, that sort of thing. Nothing especially new, nothing especially scary.
But ghost boats - now, this was a new one. Rob clicked on the flashlight, and the light cast weird-looking shadows on his face, making it look - well, actually, making it look like he was holding a flashlight under his chin in an effort to look scary. But we got into the spirit of the thing, anyway.
"Ghost boats?", repeated Shiela. "Nooo..."
"Ghost boats, oooh, that sounds oh so scary...," snorted Dan, earning himself a punch in the arm from Rob.
"It is scary!" Rob insisted, eyes shining. "And it's true...well, I think it is, anyway. My Grandmother told me this story a couple of years ago."
"Where'd she hear it?" Always the curious one, and a lover of history, I asked the question. "Was it passed down through the family?"
"Oh, I don't know...anyway, the ghost boats -"
"Well, they didn't come up the Petitcodiac, did they?" Krista gave Rob a withering look. "If they did, they couldn't have been very big...they'd sink in the mud..."
That brought chuckles of agreement from the rest of us. Rob gave us a flashlight-accentuated glare.
"Do you want to hear the story, or not?"
"Sure, sure," placated Dan, passing the bag of chips around. "Go on, tell us about the ghosties."
With an annoyed huff, Rob resumed his story, artificially deepening his voice for further effect.
"The ghost boats," he intoned, shooting a dirty look at Dan, "are boats that disappeared on the Petitcodiac River, back in the early eighteen hundreds. On a dark, foggy Halloween night..."
"What kind of boats?" I had to ask.
"Oh, for..." Rob snarled. "Rowboats, ok? Rowboats."
"Ok, ok, sorry," I said, hastily. "Go on...continue."
Disgusted, now, Rob continued in a normal tone of voice. "Okay. My Grandmother told me that back in the early eighteen hundreds, on a dark, foggy Halloween night, there was a group of people our age, who decided to sneak out and sail across the Petitcodiac in their fathers' rowboats."
"Sail on the mud?" Shiela looked at Rob, confused.
"It wasn't always muddy, dough-head. Used to be really deep, with a lot of water. Moncton used to have a lot of shipbuilding, and all that stuff."
"It's true," I said, when she looked at me for confirmation. For some reason, I seemed to be the group's unofficial know-it-all. "We used to get the really big boats. Ships, I mean."
"Huh," she said, eyes wide.
"Anyway...back to my story. The boats never came back. All those kids never made it back. They never found the sunken boats, or anything."
"How's that supposed to be a scary story?"
"Oh, that part's not scary," amended Rob, glaring again at Dan for interrupting. "The scary part is, sometimes on Halloween night, when it's dark and foggy out, you can see the ghosts of all the kids and the rowboats, sailing down the river, calling for help. My Grandmother said you can see the lanterns, and hear the people in the boats. She said that she saw them once, when she was a kid. She and her friends went and sat on the banks one Halloween night, down by the Gunningsville Bridge, and she saw them."
Curiosity and skepticism showed on all our faces, and we all looked at each other.
"I don't believe that."
"She was making it up."
"I mean, there really isn't such a thing as ghosts - I mean, there's no proof!"
"Yeah, it's just an old yarn, or something like that."
Silence for a moment. Then -
"What's the weather supposed to be like for Halloween?"
"If it's foggy, why don't we go check it out?"
"Not that we'd actually see anything..."
"Yeah, but it'll be something to do..."
We all stopped talking at once, and grinned at each other. Then, Dan said, "Let's do it."
Halloween day was cold and clear, and we were worried about the fog.
"Doesn't matter," said Dan, during our lunch break. "We'll head down anyway...say, what, about nine? Should be dark about then. Maybe they don't especially need fog to show up."
"Well, my Grandmother said that it had to be a foggy night, specifically, but who knows?" Rob asked around a mouthful of chocolate bar. "Won't hurt to go look."
"If it stays cold like this, it won't be fog we have to worry about - it'll be snow." I was hunched into my jacket, trying to keep warm. "We'll end up ghosts ourselves out there...the frozen kids of Riverview, that can be seen on the banks of the Petty every Halloween..."
"Major tourist attraction," snorted Dan. Laughing, we all went back to class as the bell rang.
So at nine that evening, the five of us walked down to the Bridge. It appeared that miracles could happen, after all - the weather had warmed up, and the air was thick with pea soup.
If anyone has ever been down on the riverbanks by the Gunningsville Bridge on a dark, foggy night, then they know that it's not exactly the most reassuring place in the world. There were very few cars out that night, and even fewer trick-or-treaters around, and it seemed that the oddest noises would echo strangely through the fog. Noises that we could not identify. Strange calls of animals, or birds. The occasional splashing noise of a fish that we could not see through the fog.
We all had flashlights, and we had brought munchies to last us for the duration. The first couple of hours were fun, actually. We sat on an old tree that had been deposited on the banks by the Petitcodiac's tide, trading more spooky stories and gorging ourselves on candy. But time wore on, and there was no sign of the ghost boats.
Finally, around eleven thirty, Krista stood up. "Guys...my curfew's at midnight. I gotta go."
"Yeah," said Rob. "Mine, too. You guys?"
Dan and Shiela and I looked at each other, a trace of reluctance on our faces. "My curfew's midnight, too," said Shiela, regretfully.
I had no curfew, but I wasn't eager to walk all the way back to Point Park by myself, so I nodded. "Yeah...let's go."
We gathered up our things, including the food wrappers, and began to trudge our way up the bank. Once we reached Hillsborough road, we paused to put our jackets back on, and comfortably adjust our backpacks.
"Dan, where's my jacket?"
"I thought you had it?"
"Hang on, guys," I said, exasperated. "I'll be right back." I trotted down the bank, noting that the fog had gotten even thicker, if that was possible. The dampness left my hair a curly mess, and I kept pushing strands of it out of my face. "Got it!" I yelled, as I grabbed my jacket off the tree trunk and turned to run back up the bank.
Huh? I turned, slowly. That hadn't sounded like any of my friends...
It's an interesting feeling, the feeling of the blood draining from your face. I experienced it for the first time, as the fog parted in front of me and I clearly saw a pale, shimmering light on the river...
"I fear that we have become lost..."
"I cannot find the bank! Where is the river bank?"
One by one, I watched as three faintly luminous rowboats slid gracefully through the water. I heard the delicate splashes of the oars, the long-ago cries for help. My eyes widened at the sight of the oddly-dressed teenagers in each boat, the fear on their young faces rendered stark by the glow of the lanterns that they held...
I gasped as, one by one, the boats disappeared from view, with a barely-audible pop... Then, the only sound was the pounding of my heart, and my ragged breathing, as the dark fog blanket pulled tightly around me again.
I jumped, and screamed, as Rob came up behind me. "You ok?" He laughed. "Hey, you look like you've seen a ghost..." His voice trailed off, uncertainly.
"No, I'm ok," I said, trying to laugh. "Just the fog getting to me, that's all."
"Ok, then," he said, watching me carefully, as we made our way up the bank.
I never did tell anyone, other than Rob, what I had seen that night. I can't even be sure that I did see it, to tell the truth. Hallucination? Over-active imagination, brought on by all those stories and all that sugar we had consumed?
I'll never know for sure. But every Halloween, Rob and I go back there, and wait and watch. It hasn't been foggy on a Halloween night since then, but we go anyway. Next year, our kids will be old enough, and I think that we'll tell them the story. Maybe they'll want to come out and sit with us.
Maybe it'll even be foggy.