Authors: Julie Flanders
The Ghosts of Aquinnah
By Julie Flanders
Ink Smith Publishing
Copyright © 2013 Julie Flanders
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The final approval for this literary material is granted by the author.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover Image created by: Michael Di Gesu
Ink Smith Publishing
P.O Box 1086
For my mom, who taught me at a young age about the magic to be found within the pages of a book. And for my grandfather, who gave me the treasure that is Martha's Vineyard, and my grandmother, whose Irish blood runs deep in my veins.
January 18, 1884
he trip had started out so well.
Christopher Casey had jumped at the chance to move to Savannah, Georgia and leave Boston behind. The brutal New England winter chilled him to his bones and left him longing for his home across the sea in Galway. When he’d heard of the opportunities to work on the Savannah docks loading cotton he hadn’t thought twice about heading south.
He’d saved his wages and sold his few belongings and finally raised the $15 he needed to buy a steerage ticket on
The City of Columbus.
That morning, he’d been so excited about the upcoming trip he’d almost forgotten about the cold and fever that had been plaguing him for days.
You should wait for another boat, Christopher,” his landlady Mrs. Pitts had insisted as she poured him a cup of hot coffee. “You’re not well enough to make that trip.”
Nonsense. I’ll be right as rain as soon as I’m out to sea, sailing under the sunshine…”
An ill-timed coughing fit had interrupted his declaration.
Now doesn’t that prove what I’m trying to tell you,” Mrs. Pitts said. “Listen to yourself, lad. You’ll end up with the consumption long before you ever make it to Georgia.”
Christopher gulped down his coffee and stood up from his landlady’s table. “Don’t be daft. I’m not going to get the consumption.” He took Mrs. Pitts’ hand in his own and lightly kissed it with his lips. “I do appreciate your concern though, Mrs. Pitts. And I can’t deny I’m going to miss you. And your coffee.”
The portly woman laughed and momentarily looked 20 years younger than her true age of 50 as her cheeks turned a flaming shade of crimson. “You’ll miss the coffee most of all, I’m sure of that.”
You’re surely wrong then.”
I can’t convince you to wait? They’ll be plenty of other voyages going south. Come back here tonight and let me take care of you. Get ya well before you head on out to sea.”
Christopher shook his head. “No, I’m going now. If I let something like a little catarrh stop me I’ll never get anywhere.”
He’d left Mrs. Pitts’ boarding house for his last day’s work on the Boston docks, then bounded aboard
The City of Columbus
with a few dollars in his pocket and a spring in his step. When the steamer had departed Boston under a cloudless winter sky he’d dreamed of the southern sunshine he’d heard so much about and started counting the hours until he’d feel warm again.
He now realized he hadn’t even known what cold was then. But as his ice-encrusted fingers clutched the shrouds that had connected the steamer’s masthead to the sides of the vessel, he knew.
Christopher had been sleeping in his bunk when he’d heard a loud crunching noise and felt the ship start to list. He’d jumped out of bed and pulled on his boots and grabbed his coat as the room tilted to one side and the floor seemed to slide under his feet. He’d struggled to keep his balance as he’d left the room and stumbled into the hallway, where he’d been greeted by a rush of water that reached his knees.
As the gushing water rose to his waist, Christopher cursed himself as he dropped his coat and watched as it was instantly carried away from him down the corridor. He ignored the cacophony of terrified screaming around him and made his way for the stairway he knew would lead him to the ship’s deck. What he’d found there had been more horrifying than anything he ever could have imagined.
Instead of the safe harbor he’d hoped for, the deck had been nothing but terror and chaos. The ship’s crew members haphazardly attempted to cut lifeboats free from their moorings, only to have the boats crash against the hull of the sinking ship and fall into the churning sea. Christopher had watched women clutching their children and men grabbing for lifejackets just as a huge wave engulfed the deck. When the wave receded, everyone and everything in its path had disappeared into the sea.
The starboard side of the ship was high in the air and Christopher had grasped the railing next to him with a strength he’d never known he had. Within minutes, the ship had started to right itself, and Christopher knew he had only seconds to get to safety before she sank. Having nowhere else to go, he’d leapt into the ship’s rigging and climbed above the rising sea as the rest of
The City of Columbus
disappeared beneath him.
That had been hours ago. The screams and cries surrounding him had lessened with each passing hour, as one survivor after another fell into the sea. Christopher was no longer shivering as the wind rocked the mast he clung to and the blowing waves rose and drenched him with frigid water. He simply felt tired and too weak to continue holding on to the shrouds that had saved his life. His thick brown hair had turned to ice on his head, his clothing was frozen to his feverish body, and his hands and arms throbbed with pain.
But now he watched the sun rise on the opposite side of the island, punctuating the black sky around him with fiery stripes of red and orange. And Christopher realized that he wanted to keep trying. He could now clearly see the rocky shore less than a mile from him, and the keeper’s house next to the red brick lighthouse whose shining beacon had been his only source of hope throughout the pitch dark night. He’d watched the lighthouse and forced himself to count in rhythm along with the flashing lights, an endless cycle of three whites and one red.
Now, the site of the keeper’s house gave Christopher more hope than the lights ever could. There were people in that house, and probably a town beyond it. And now that the morning had come, help would be coming too. Christopher was sure of it.
When he saw the boat rowing towards him through the waves, he wondered if he was simply hallucinating. But when he heard the men on the boat yell out for survivors, he knew they were real. And he knew that they were coming for him.
Help!” he cried out, his voice croaking. “Over here, help us, please!”
Knowing he could not be heard above the noise of the wind and the surf, Christopher screamed louder. “Help!”
His anguished yells gave way to a fierce coughing fit that wracked his body and nearly caused Christopher to lose his hold on the rigging. As the boat moved closer, he could make out the thick coats and heavy life vests that the men aboard it wore and he knew he wouldn’t have to hold on much longer. The man at the front of the boat raised an arm and waved to him.
We see you!” he yelled.
Christopher burst into tears that immediately froze to ice on his pale face. “Help me, please,” he said between violent coughs. “Please!”
We can’t get to you, boy,” the man yelled. “We’ll sink.”
As Christopher looked down at the currents swirling around the submerged deck of the wrecked ship, he understood why his rescuers could not risk coming into the churning waters. The waves could easily grab their own boat and destroy it within seconds.
Come to us!” The man held up a boathook. “We’ll get you!”
Christopher knew there was nothing to do but let go and fall into the sea. He couldn’t hold on any longer anyway. He stared at the men in the boat and then looked back down at the water. He pried his frozen fingers from the rigging and dropped into the waves below.
The icy water hit Christopher with the force of a train as the waves sucked him into the ocean. Using his last ounce of strength, he struggled to swim back to the surface. When his head came back above water he opened his mouth to yell to his rescuers just as a wave picked him up and sent him careening into the boat. As the water slammed Christopher into the side of the rescue boat, he felt a sharp pain in his left arm just before he lost consciousness.
When he came to he was on his back in the boat, stretched out next to the rowing men. He could see another survivor near the front of the boat but didn’t have the strength to sit up and look for others. He noticed he was wrapped in a large blue coat and realized that one of the rescuers had removed their own coat and given it to him. The man glanced down at him now and nodded.
Christopher wanted to speak, to say thank you, but he was unable to say the words. Each time he opened his mouth, his lungs erupted into coughing fits that merely amplified the blinding pain in his arm. He shivered both from the frigid temperature and icy waters and from the fever that now raged through his body. Christopher’s vision blurred and the sky above him slipped from view as he slipped mercifully back into unconsciousness.