Read Rain of the Ghosts Online

Authors: Greg Weisman

Rain of the Ghosts (13 page)

As he leveled off beside Rain, his sad face grew determined. He spoke evenly: “The coast is clear. You can ditch the tanks and swim for Tío Sam’s.”

Rain nodded, tugging at Charlie and pointing toward the surface. Charlie kicked upward.

“But…” said ’Bastian. Rain grabbed Charlie, stopping him. She turned to face her grandfather, who quietly said, “… I can’t go with you.” Bewildered, Rain stared at him through her mask.

He pointed down toward his former comrades. Their need carried through the water into Rain and ’Bastian’s minds. “Captain, please … The mission … Send us home … home…” She stared at the Eight. Their voices had grown more insistent and crisp, like ’Bastian’s. Less like liquid and smoke.
It’s the snake charm
, she realized. With it, she could hear them as clearly as the living. Without it, she needed to be in direct contact with their essence, and even then they’d sound distant, like whispers.
But I could see them. I could hear them. Even without the charm! WHY? Charlie can’t! Callahan couldn’t! Just … me …

’Bastian brought her back to the matter at hand: “They need me to finish the mission, so they can finally go home.” Her eyes snapped up to meet his. He sighed. “Rain, they’ve waited so long…”

She shook her head vehemently! Then she pointed to the armband, turned to Charlie and practically pulled her friend toward the surface. ‘Bastian tried not to follow. He tried concentrating on the mission, on the men. But the connection to the snake charm was too strong, and he began to rise against his will. Below him, he watched his crew start to dim and fade away.

For the second time, Rain and Charlie broke the surface. The rain was sharp and stinging; the seas, just beginning to chop. Treading water, they removed their regulators.

“What’s going on?” Charlie asked.

“’Bastian’s trying to ditch me!”

“Rain…” Charlie sounded dubious. But whether of the ghost’s intentions or its mere existence was unclear.

“I am not trying to ditch you, young lady.”’Bastian had surfaced beside his granddaughter. He was as determined as ever to rescue his men. “I have to help them find peace. It must be why I’m still hanging around.”

“No!” Rain was equally determined. “You’re here to be with me! I don’t
you finishing any missions.”

“We’re right above the wreck. I can sense it somehow. That’s why they stopped the boat here.” He pointed at the snake charm, knowing she knew what he wanted, what he needed.

“No, no, NO!!”

“No, what?!” Charlie demanded.

Rain ignored him, yelling at no one: “I won’t lose you again!”

Charlie muttered, “Can’t believe I’m a third wheel in a crowd of two.”

’Bastian leaned in, quiet and serious. “Raindrop. This is important.”

Rain looked away. Torn and torn up. She couldn’t bear it if he left again.
I just got him back …
She snuck another look. At this face she barely recognized. Her grandfather before he was her grandfather. When he had other, larger, priorities.
I can’t lose him again …
For a long moment of quiet rain and less-than-gentle up and down ocean flow, she said nothing.
But if I keep him like this …
Finally, she turned and said, “Charlie, we’re gonna dive down and find that B-17.”

“What?!” Charlie yelled.

’Bastian was equally shocked. “You don’t have to do that.”

“The snake charm heals,” she said, trying to convince herself as much as anyone. “And these ghosts have been hurting for a long time. I have to see this through even if it means losing you.”

“Thanks, you’re so kind,” said Charlie, who thought she was speaking to him.

“Maybe that’s how you become part of something larger than yourself—by doing something…” She cringed. “… Unselfish.”

’Bastian beamed at her proudly, but he still didn’t want her at risk. “Just drop the thing. If it sinks straight down, it’ll fall close enough.”

“And let it land fifty feet from the plane, stranding you at the bottom of the ocean for eternity? I don’t think so.”

Charlie had had enough. He was trying desperately to hold onto the safe normal world he knew. “Rain, you can’t possibly believe all this stuff!”

“You saw how it healed my arm. Are you telling me you

“I’m sure not admitting I
He glowered at her for a good five seconds. Then relented. “All right, let’s go.”

She smiled. The kids replaced their regulators. Then all three dove back down under the surface of the water.

Rain and ’Bastian followed the glowing bread-crumb trail of ghosts down toward the ocean floor. Charlie followed Rain, shining the flashlight rapidly back and forth. By this time, he wanted to find the plane as much as his friend. Find it and get out of there.
If I live through this, my mom is gonna kill me.

Rain could hear the drums in her head. The further down they searched, the more insistent the rhythm. Another smile crept onto her face.
When did this become fun?
There was no sign of the
The temperature of the water decreased steadily as they descended. Rain and Charlie were both wearing t-shirts and shorts and wishing for wet suits.

’Bastian pointed past a coral reef. Rain swam over it. Charlie followed. Beyond the reef, their objective: a shadow that seemed to drain away all surrounding light. Charlie swept his flashlight across the dark shape. The
Island Belle
had seen better decades. It lay wrecked, rusted, seaweed-covered and decidedly ominous at the bottom of the sea.

Charlie felt his heart racing; he was scared, but despite himself, he was curious now too. He and Rain exchanged a glance, then swam toward the B-17.

They swam along the fuselage until they found a hatch. Rain tried to pull it open, but the rusted handle snapped off in her hands. Charlie tapped her on the shoulder and pointed.

There was a large open crack in the fuselage about three feet away. Large enough to swim through. Rain paused. Then swam into the plane. Charlie followed. Drums, heartbeats, whatever they were, were loud in both their ears.

Carefully, they swam through the
’s cramped interior toward her cockpit. Charlie held the light steady. As they entered the radio room, their movement spooked a small shark, which fled, churning up a cloud of silty muck. The light danced among the silt, revealing nothing. They swam through the cloud and found themselves face to face with a grinning skull.

Both kids let out a frightened squeal through their regulators. They grabbed each other’s arms to steady their nerves. Rain moved closer. The skull topped a skeleton dressed in tattered World War II garb. Charlie’s light soon found a second skeleton and a third. Rain stared at the first skull, trying to see the face that used to surround it. But she didn’t recognize him. Didn’t recognize any of them.
Dead people all look alike to me.
The light slid past the name tag on his uniform: “Grier.”
It’s Pete,
she thought.
This was Pete.
Now she knew she was doing the right thing.

Charlie wasn’t so sure. He didn’t know what they were supposed to do in here, down here. But whatever it was, it was past time they got it done and got out. He found Rain’s eyes and pleaded to her with his own. She nodded and led him around the remains of Pete Grier and into the cockpit.

Rain entered the small space, followed by Charlie. His light found another skeleton wearing a bomber jacket and leather helmet, sitting in the copilot’s seat. Charlie shrugged at Rain.
Now what?

On Rain’s armband, the snake that had healed her flashed gold once again. ’Bastian materialized from the snake charm, facing away from them. He was still glowing softly but no longer transparent. As his glow changed from white to gold, he looked almost solid enough to touch. But Rain’s hand still went right through his back, and she quickly pulled away. He ignored or didn’t feel the intrusion. He took his seat. The pilot’s seat. He said, “All right, boys, prepare for takeoff.”

“Roger that.”

Rain locked her hands around Charlie’s arm—tight enough to make him wince. Tom McMinn’s glowing spirit had materialized around his skeleton—solid enough to render the bones within invisible.

“Finally.” This voice came from behind. Rain turned just in time to see Pete’s spirit looming in the hatchway, superimposed over his skeleton, too. Pete smiled, but not at her. She wasn’t sure if the crew were even aware of their presence.

Tom spoke into a radio whose frayed wires no longer led anywhere: “Call in.”

In the nose, Bear and Billy found their bones and checked in with their commanding officers. “Navigator, ready.” “Bombardier, checking in.”

Back in the radio room, the two skeletons Pete had left behind came to life as Lance and Ducky. “Radio operator, checking in.” “Ball turret, checking in.”

Behind them, Big Harry and Little Harry were also ready. “Left waist gunner.” “Right waist gunner.”

Rain was dedicating a lot of energy to remembering to breathe. ’Bastian began flipping switches on his control panel. His glow infected everything he touched, and that glow was spreading like wildfire throughout the
, inside and out. Soon the entire wreck was surrounded by an electric golden aura.

’Bastian paused. “Top turret?”

“Right behind you, Cap,” Pete said cheerfully.

“Tail gunner?”

“Still goldbricking.” Tommy laughed. “Hit that son in the head once, and he’ll milk it for weeks.”

“That’s right. Poor kid.” And for half a second, Rain felt bad for Old Joe, missing the mission one more time.

’Bastian set back to work. “Let’s run the checklist, Lieutenant. Generators?”

Tommy stopped him. “Captain Bohique, I can pretty much guarantee that nothing is working on this bird.”

And Pete: “He’s right, Cap. You think too much about it, we ain’t never gettin’ home.”

The Dark Man nodded. “All right, then, just start the engines for me.”

“Roger that.”

One engine no longer had a propeller, but the golden aura flashed around the other three and the bent and rusted props began to turn, churning up the water and muck.

Rain glanced at Charlie, wondering what he saw. Wondering whether he’d believe her when she told him what

Charlie’s eyes were wide. He was glad for Rain’s grip on his arm, because the pain gave him something to focus on and kept him from screaming. He saw no glow. No gold aura around the B-17. And the pilot seat seemed empty. But his flashlight was locked on the copilot’s bones, which were actively flipping switches on the busted control panel. And worse yet—out of the corner of his eye, because he
would NOT
turn around—Charlie could just see the skeleton from the radio room, grinning over his shoulder.
It followed us to the cockpit! It got up and followed us! That can’t be good!

’Bastian remained in the moment. If he was aware of Rain and Charlie at all, he didn’t let on. Rain watched him turn to Tommy, give his lieutenant a wink, and say, “Let’s go home.” Then he pushed on the throttle, and the bomber abruptly lurched forward. Rain and Charlie exchanged yet another glance before grabbing hold of the seats in front of them. And just in time. Because the
Island Belle
was ready for takeoff.



Rain and Charlie felt the
lurch forward again.

“Our girl’s a little sluggish tonight,”’Bastian said lovingly. He eased the throttle once more, and the bomber began to move in earnest. Which was interesting, because her landing gear wasn’t down. The glowing rusted hulk was just taxiing on its belly through the sand. But it was picking up speed.

A current of water surged in through the shattered windshield and out of the cockpit past Rain, Charlie and Pete. The kids dug their hands into the torn fabric and rotted padding of ’Bastian and Tommy’s seats, until they found the metal framework beneath and something real to hold onto against the flow. Charlie finally got brave enough to sneak a peek behind and saw Pete’s bony hands brace his skeleton in the hatch. Charlie had a not-so-sudden desperate impulse to flee.
But I’m not going out that way!

The B-17 was really starting to move now. ’Bastian pulled back on the wheel. “That’s my girl,” he said. And
responded. She began to lift up off the ocean floor. Bouncing once, twice, gaining altitude—even if she was still below sea level.

Looking terrified and amazed at the same time, Charlie and Rain held on tighter still, bracing themselves against the bumpy “takeoff.”

Finally, the
left her silty runway and was legitimately up and “flying” through the ocean. ’Bastian pulled back some more, and she continued to rise at a steeper angle. Rain and Charlie quickly adjusted their stances to keep from sliding back as the bomber climbed for the surface.

From the nose, Bear spoke to ’Bastian, via some kind of spook-wave radio system: “Need me to set a course, Cap?”

“No thanks, Lieutenant. We’re mighty close to home. I know where we’re goin’.”

Above the water line, the rain continued to softly replenish the calm and peaceful sea. Then—WHOOSH—the glowing B-17 broke the surface and continued its ascent into the sky. This gold-glowing, blushing
was like a new-made bride, with a train of seaweed and salt water trailing behind her. And this particular bride had a bridesmaid too: a storm head was building in her wake.

Inside the cockpit, the water rapidly began to drain away. ’Bastian, Tommy and Pete took no notice. But Rain and Charlie did. They were still holding on for dear life, but when the water fell below neck level, both kids spit out their regulators to shout over the wind that was now blasting through the nonexistent windshield.

Dripping and shivering, an excited Rain was wearing a big old grin: “Now, do you believe?!”

Charlie looked around, stunned. He saw no ghosts. But there was a fully animated skeleton sitting right in front of him and another standing right behind him.
And the thing does seem to be flying.…
He turned back to Rain and shouted, “Let’s just say I’m keeping an open mind!”

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