by Lawrence Dagstine

Crossing the waters, for those who can pass muster, is a good first step into the underworld.  

     The darkness was made up of a million small dots that danced before your eyes. One moment you could see the outline of a rock against the sea, the next there was nothing but shimmering blackness.

The intertwined streets of the fisherman’s village were deserted. Rain and sleet were falling, whipped sideways by the wind. The truck with the living and the dead in back went slowly, the driver peering nervously at the road up ahead.

“They say the government’s not to be trusted,” the Usher of Souls remarked from the back. “We’ll help you take your loved ones to the Other Side tonight, I promise. But we must be careful.”

Rosalyn Brown asked the Usher, “But why would they do something like this to my family? All the families! Their being dead doesn’t mean they’re any less alive.”

The Usher slapped his hand down on his knee. “Who can tell?” he replied. “To them, anything dead is justified if it furthers their experimental cause. To answer questions like WHY your family members have come back.”

One thing, thought Rosalyn, whose deceased father, niece and boyfriend were among the group….it WAS a perfect night for the “Ghost Ship”. The paranormal investigators were up on the headland, checking houses. They wouldn’t be able to see further than the cliff’s edge. Also, there was hardly as much precipitation coming off the water. That meant the boat would have a fast passage.

The ship would come; she knew it. And it would be a great relief when the dead were all spirited away. There were three dozen of them on the beach, a terrifying number of them having accumulated in the past three weeks. Just behind her, more had lined up to escape the government threat. Rosalyn could hear them muttering. She walked over and whispered, “Please, do NOT talk. The sound may carry.”

She returned to the resistance beach house with a feeling that everything would be all right. The only noise was the lapping of waves on sand. Then there was another sound, an infinitesimal, soft swishing. Her heart thudded. She quickly moved along the groups of dead people and said to each, “A special boat should arrive soon. You must not move until you are told.” She crouched beside her niece. “And that goes for you, too, kitten.”

At last the Mary Celeste glided onto the beach. The Usher came forward and called softly, “Groups one and two.” A dozen males followed him to the boarding ramp, and the skeleton crew bundled their first batch of passengers in. But Walter wasn’t among them; Rosalyn already knew it. Her lover was nowhere to be found, and before she knew it, the Celeste was gone.

“Don’t worry,” the Usher of Souls said. “They’ll be back. We still have more to save, and they always make two or three trips across the Styx.”

Twenty minutes later the Celeste was back. Rosalyn called two more groups to form a line, this time the females, and took them across the sand to go aboard. Once more they set sail into the fog and disappeared. One more journey to go.

Suddenly, someone was hurrying along the beach toward her. Father? No, too tall to be Father; he must have already made it across. Then she knew who it was. She reached forward, laughing a little. Then he was hugging her tightly. “Oh, Walter, where did you go? I thought we missed you,” she murmured.

“Rosalyn—“ He pulled away, trying to see her face. “We haven’t much time, but I’ve had an idea. It’s been cleared with everyone else. You must come on the boat with us. On the Celeste.”

She frowned. “What, I—“

“That’s against the rules,” the Usher of Souls interjected. “The government folks are already at the lighthouse. We must hurry!”

“Look, we can fix it for the next trip,” she said. “You just disappear, Walt.  No one would even guess you were gone. And you’ll be safe, all of you.”

“But wouldn’t you rather be with your family? Wouldn’t you rather be with me?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.” She had never considered coming along; it WAS forbidden.”

“Please say you’ll come!”

“I need time! First we have to save you and the others.”

“There may not be any time.”

“Walter, I love you with all my heart. But I must think.”

“What is there to think about?”

“My life is here, as are my OTHER relatives. It’s just all so sudden. Next trip I’ll tell you for sure. You’ll be coming back again in my memories, won’t you?”

“Yes. Yes…”

They sat down together on the sand, and he put his arm around her. Rosalyn put her head on his shoulder. “I’ll try. I promise,” she muttered. After all, one day she too would be waiting for the Celeste to take her.

He squeezed her arm. “Good!”

Soon there was the sound of muffled gears and an anchor hitting the water. She said, “I’d better get the last group ready,” and ran quickly up the beach. When she returned, he was waiting at the top of the boarding ramp. He blew her a final kiss goodbye, giving her his love and his thanks for being part of the rescue effort, and quickly stepped aboard. A moment later, the Mary Celeste sailed off, and vanished into the darkness.