This month's excerpt is from Ghost Ship, which is available in trade-paper and Kindle editions on Amazon.
“Donte," whispered Thomas, crouching close to Donte’s ear.
Donte opened his eyes to silver starlight and the golden glow of the lamp on the mast. He’d been dreaming of breasts softly pressed to his chest, and found Randy nestled against him on the old sail they'd spread on the gratings, while Timothy slept on the sternsheets and Tiya in the bow. They had stayed awake until midnight singing songs to Thomas' piping, then Thomas had taken first watch.
Drawing gently away so he wouldn’t wake Randy, Donte sat up to scan the stars, and noted the Cheshire smile of moon, now ghostly blue and low in the west. "Time for my watch?" he yawned.
But Thomas pointed toward the moon. "Look."
Donte gazed across the sea, shimmering silent and nearly dead calm. Almost at the edge of sight, he saw a dark shape on the glistening moon-path. "A ship," he whispered. "Not very large, and showing no lights."
"There is a glimmer.”
"Probably just the moon reflecting from a porthole," said Donte, after another moment of study. "Or a wheelhouse window." He stood up and shaded his eyes from the stars. "There is no smoke from her funnel. Perhaps she is having engine trouble. How long has she been there?"
"I sighted her a short time ago as the moon was lowering. At first I thought she was coming this way, but she has not moved. Though I think we are drifting toward her."
"...Perhaps," said Donte, still scanning the shadow-shrouded ship and noting another faint glimmer. "There may be a current." Then he shrugged. “We do not need her help. There will be wind after dawn, and we should be home for supper."
"Perhaps she needs our help?” said Thomas. "She looks very lonely somehow."
“Those aboard should have seen our lamp, yet they have made no signal,” said Donte. “Perhaps they are simply hove-to for the night, it is too deep here to anchor, though they should be showing mast lights."
"Or, perhaps they are all below trying to repair her engine?" Thomas also shaded his eyes and regarded the distant ship, now becoming silhouetted against the blue glow of the lowering moon as if materializing out of an ethereal mist, her two tall masts pointing spectrally skyward. "And I think she faces away from us, so maybe we haven't been seen. ...It would not be a lengthy row to her. And, if you could help them with your skills, perhaps they might offer us breakfast."
Timothy sat up ponderously to also study the ship. "They could be smugglers or pirates. Perhaps we should row... but away! And put out our lamp before we are seen."
"What's up?" asked Randy, also sitting, and brushing his hair out of his eyes. Then he turned where the other boys faced. "I hope that's not my boat an' they're comin' back lookin' for me!"
"Non," said Donte. "She is over twice the size and of much older design. Probably a freighter."
Timothy said, "Which could be smuggling drugs and does not want to be seen. ...You are captain, what are your orders?"
Donte continued to study the ship... the longboat did seem to be drifting toward her. "Perhaps," he said at last, "she is what I have felt since yesterday up on our mountain... something lonely and drifting out here."
"But, not bad?" asked Tiya, coming aft to join the boys.
"I cannot tell. What do you feel?"
Tiya gazed at the ship for a time. "Nothing more than you describe... a sad and lonely drifting."
"So, perhaps she does need our help,” said Thomas.
"We have nothing for pirates to steal,” said Donte. “Nor should we be of concern to smugglers, for who could we tell who would trouble them."
Randy asked, "You sayin' we should check her out?"
"There may be, as Thomas proposed, a chance of earning breakfast.”
“I like the sound of that.”
Donte offered a hand, assisting Randy to his feet. “And possibly a pair of jeans for our beau garçon sauvage.”
"That would be cool," said Randy. "’Least I'd have somethin' to start my new life."
"What you already have is sufficient," said Tiya.
"Thomas, bring in the drouge," said Donte. He moved to one of the middle seats and unshipped a pair of oars, while Timothy took the other pair.
"Can I do somethin'?" asked Randy.
"Take the tiller," said Donte, "and hold our course for the ship. Tiya, please sit beside him for trim."
“With pleasure,” said Tiya, joining Randy.
They started across the glassy sea along the shimmering moon-path, the only sounds the creak of oarlocks and the liquid whispering of water cleaving to the bow. There did seem to be a current drawing them toward the shadowy ship, because, glancing over his shoulder, Donte saw they were nearing her more swiftly somehow than they should.
"She does face away from us," said Thomas, standing in the bow. "And she is listing a little to port. And her head is somewhat down."
“Mean she could be sinkin'?" asked Randy.
Donte looked over his shoulder again. "If so, it is very slowly. Her loom has not changed since we first sighted her."
"Perhaps she has been abandoned?" said Tiya. "That would explain her showing no lights."
"There is no boat in her davits," said Thomas, still peering ahead and shading his eyes. He added as they continued to near, "She is very old. I have only seen pictures of ships that old."
"And very rusty," said Tiya. "There seems not a trace of paint left upon her."
Donte looked over his shoulder again. "She is a steamer; her funnel so tall to draw boiler draft. I, too, have only seen pictures of ships as old as she."
The ship was looming over them now, showing a high and graceful stern, her massive rudder centered, and a tip of propeller blade exposed above the glassy water. She was clearly an ancient cargo steamer, of riveted iron construction; a "three-island" type with high bow and stern, and cabin and wheelhouse amidships, along with a towering funnel, and tall cargo masts fore and aft. As Thomas had observed, she listed a little to port, and her bow was down by maybe a meter.
"She sure is rusty," said Randy. "An' look at all the seaweed an' barnacles."
"Pause," said Donte, shipping his oars as they glided out of the moonlight into the vessel's shadow. Timothy also drew in his oars as Donte stood to study the ship, gazing up at the dark wheelhouse, where only a glimmer showed now and then of starlight reflecting from glass. Without the sounds of rowing, there was only the lapping of water along the ship's massively barnacled hull where ropes of seaweed slowly swayed in an aura of pale luminescence.
“Why is it glowin’ down there?” asked Randy.
“From all the sea-life upon her,” said Donte.
"A derelict," said Timothy. "And she must have been drifting for years."
Donte gazed up at the rust-eaten plates and salt-crusted wheel-house windows. "Much longer than that I would say."
Tiya asked, "But how could that be possible? Surely she would have been discovered."
"Wi," agreed Timothy. "There are thousands of fishing vessels, freighters, cruise ships, tankers and yachts plying the Caribbean; surely some would have sighted her and reported a hazard to navigation.”
Donte still studied the silent ship. "Yet, it would seem she has not been discovered. ...And do we know she is abandoned?"
"I would say at least by the living," said Tiya.
"Huh?" said Randy. "You sayin' there might be ghosts on this ship?"
Tiya cupped her hands to her mouth. "AHOY ON BOARD!"
Only the soft sea sounds replied.
Randy shivered a little. "Did you expect an answer?"
"I did not think it impossible."
Donte asked, "Do you feel there may be spirits aboard?"
"I still feel nothing more than you... and perhaps that is only her loneliness."
"...Huh?" said Randy again. "You mean the ship? ...But it's just a bunch of rusty old metal."
"Things may also have spirits," said Tiya. "Things that are naturally born of this earth, and things that have once been a part of lives, intimately involved with lives. Such things may become instilled with life and endowed with a spirit of their own... a good spirit if those lives were happy.” She paused in thought for a moment. "Donte has an affinity with machines and mechanical things, which may explain why he felt her first and more intensely than I or my mother."
“Guess that makes sense," said Randy. "...Could we go around to the other side? It's kinda creepy here in the dark."
Donte nodded. "I see no way on this side to board her; it is five meters up to her cargo decks."
"You wanna go aboard?" asked Randy. "This spooky old ship?" Then he laughed. "I don't think we're gonna get breakfast on her!"
"But, assuming she is abandoned, by law she may be claimed and salvaged by anyone who finds her."
Timothy added, "We have no way to take her home... that would require a tug... but there may be useful things aboard."
"An' maybe jeans," said Randy.
Donte and Timothy took up their oars and rowed to the old ship's straight-stemmed bow. "She still has her anchor," said Timothy. "Too bad her name has rusted away."
"There may be documents on board. ...Pause," said Donte, shipping his oars, then reaching to touch the ship's rusty stem.
"What do you feel" asked Tiya.
They continued around to the starboard side, emerging into moonlight again. "Could she be sinkin'?" asked Randy.
"I am amazed she is still afloat, being so sadly rusted," said Donte. "But she rides no lower than when we first saw her. Her list may be due to shifted cargo, and her lowered head caused by rainwater in her forward bilges. I doubt her hatches are still weather-tight."
"There is a line overside," said Thomas.
Donte saw a frayed bight of hawser dangling out of a scupper along the forward cargo deck. But, it was well out of reach, he found, after mounting the longboat's gunwale and stretching up his arms.
"I see nothing else," said Timothy, scanning along the ship's rusty flank.
"The sounding line, Thomas," said Donte.
Thomas produced a length of light line with a weight attached to one end. He heaved it expertly, the weight sailing though the hawser's bight and dropping back down the ship's side with a clatter. Then he tied on a heavier line and hauled it up through the bight.
"I get it," said Randy. "Donte can climb to the big rope on that."
"Hawser," Thomas corrected. "And there are no ropes on a boat, only lines."
"Okay, got that, too," said Randy.
Donte tugged on the line. "Assuming the hawser does not pull out, or is so rotted it breaks."
“I’m too fat to climb that,” said Randy.
“As am I,” said Timothy, and was echoed by Thomas.
"I will come after you, Donte," said Tiya. “Together we can hoist Randy; the three of us can lift Thomas, then all of us will hoist Timothy."
Donte cupped his hands to his mouth. "AHOY! WE ARE COMING ABOARD!"
"What if you woke up a ghost?" said Randy.
Tiya said, "Spirits will already know we are here. As does hers, if she has one."
Donte added, "But, there may be someone alive on board. Someone else may have already found her, and to establish a salvage claim someone must remain aboard."
He waited another moment, but again only sea sounds replied to his hail. Then, slinging his tool pouch over a shoulder, his chest and arm muscles revealing themselves beneath their padding of chubbiness, he climbed the ship's side to the hawser and clambered over the bulwarks.
There are few things sadder to see than the rusted decks of abandoned ships with wheelhouse windows like empty skull eyes staring hollowly down, and Donte took only a moment to scan the spectral scene, noting heavy plank hatch covers with only shreds of canvas remaining. But, aside from the ghostly desolation, something didn't seem right; and though he didn't know what it was, it haunted his mind as Tiya climbed up and he assisted her to the deck. Then, together, they hoisted Randy.
"This is spooky woo woo!” puffed Randy, staring up at the black empty windows.
"In abundance," Donte agreed. "But, if there is something to fear, it might be someone living aboard who guards the salvage rights."
"Think there might be?" asked Randy, as Donte lowered the line to Thomas. "Even if they were sleepin', they shoulda heard us by now."
"It does seem doubtful," said Donte. "There should be lamps at the mastheads if anyone has claimed her." Then he called to Thomas, "Heave our bow line."
Donte caught the longboat's line, drew it through the scupper, and made it fast to a massive cleat. Then he, Tiya and Randy hoisted Thomas aboard. Finally, with the four of them pulling, Timothy, bringing the lantern, was also hauled aboard. By now the moon was below the horizon, leaving only pale starlight, but Timothy scanned around.
"This is not right," he said.
"Something is not,” said Donte. “But I cannot bring it to mind.”
"What is not here that should be?" said Tiya.
"What do you mean?" asked Thomas, gazing across the desolate deck.
"What is atop our mountain?"
"Bird shit," said Randy. "Jason's always bitchin' about seagulls shittin' on 'his’ boat.”
"Wi," said Donte. "Her decks should be deeply covered with it from years of resting birds."
"I don't even see one splatter," said Randy.
“Which is strange," said Tiya. "Where could she have been all this time and not have had sea-birds aboard her?"
"The middle of the ocean?" said Randy. "Like, the Atlantic, I guess?"
"Even there birds would have found her," said Donte, "and come to sleep and rest."
Tiya nodded thoughtfully. "Unless there is something about her they fear."
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