Updated: Nov 30, 2019
So now I’m sitting in my office back at O.C.E.A.N. headquarters, clicking the button on my mouse a lot harder than I should be, while Sunflower Smith-Jones, bubbly-teenager-turned-irate-ghost, basically has a conniption over the whole thing.
Meanwhile, the wind and the waves are going nuts outside, and I think I’m hearing some thunder in there as well, because subtlety is not something this house does, and also apparently I live in a freaking Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. It’s enough to make a guy wish he had stayed in South Dakota.
There’s a reason no one writes gothic horror set in South Dakota.
I yank the Tylenol out of my desk’s bottom drawer, twist the lid off so hard that it breaks through the child safety dealie, and swallow three without water. My mom always told me not to swallow pills without water, but I’m captain of my own ship now, Mom, and I can do what I want.
I’m trying to calm down. Really I am. It’s just so hard with a teen ghost who won’t stop yelling at you.
To be honest, I’m kind of embarrassed to let her see my office like this. I figured there was about a thirty percent chance of this exact moment transpiring (give or take a translucent Cardinals hat), so I almost made myself clean in here yesterday, but, well, the best laid plans of something-something and all that. I should have at least tried to stack up all the papers sprawled all over my desk, maybe put some of these ships-in-bottles to use. That’s what they are, right? Paperweights? I have no idea what to do with them, but people keep giving them to me. Hey, that Doug guy? He likes boats, right? Let’s give him one of those boat things.
Beats an ugly necktie. I guess.
“Are you even listening to me?” the ghost says.
She sighs. How do ghosts even sigh? It’s like breath breathing breath. What even is that?
“I mean—” I say—“I got the gist. You’re dead. You don’t like being dead. You’re upset that I failed to prevent you from becoming dead. Is that about it? Am I missing anything?”
Now she’s glowering at me the way that only ghosts can glower—eyes filled with all the rage of the pits of hell, that sort of thing. As if this whole thing is somehow my fault. “You are getting the absolute worst Uber review,” she says.
“Again, you are really confused about how Uber works—”
“Stop,” she says, jabbing at the mess of papers on my desk with a diaphanous ghost-finger. “Just stop. I want the explanation. I want to know what happened to me, and I want to know how you’re going to fix it.”
“K, don’t take this the wrong way, but right now you’re sounding a lot like the blue-blooded classmates you have so much contempt for—”
“No,” she says. “Stop making jokes. I just died, and I want to know why. I want to know why I’m a ghost, and I want to know where my body is. Now.”
“I mean the ‘body’ part is easy. They’re fishing it out of the harbor as we speak.”
“What? I was just answering your—”
“Just—ugh—” She’s rubbing her temples now, because apparently ghosts can get headaches? (The more you think about ghosts, the less sense they make, but here we are.) “How can you be so nonchalant about this? I child just died in front of you, and—”
“I’ve dealt with this before,” I tell her. “A few times.”
“A few times?”
“Give or take. Look, it’s hard to explain—”
“Explain. I’m listening.”
“I mean, are you?”
There’s that glower from hell again. It’s enough to make a guy miss the bubbly, still-living Sunny.
“All right,” I tell her, “fine. Um—well, first of all, the program is cursed.”
“O.C.E.A.N. It’s cursed. Actually, it’s all cursed. The program, the campus, the ship, the docks. Possibly the entire state of Massachusetts. That would explain the glut of Dunkin Donuts we have here—”
“And you’re just now thinking to tell me this. Now that I’m already dead.”
“I mean you knew. At least, legally. It was in the waiver you signed.”
“No one ever reads the waiver before they sign it. Why is that? Take a look—” I tap on my keyboard to bring up the registration form on the O.C.E.A.N. website, then turn the monitor so she can see.
“…‘hold guiltless, indemnify’…okay…‘gross negligence’…‘death, dismemberment, ghostification’? That’s not even a word.”
“Look, I didn’t write the contract. Here, let me highlight part of it for you—”
“‘By signing below, student and parent/guardian acknowledge awareness of Black Alice’s Curse and potential ramifications of same.’ What?”
“Is it really not—? It seems obvious to me. What it’s saying is—”
“No one told me about any of that! There was nothing on your website about a curse or a—a Beige Alice, or whatever—”
“Black Alice, not Beige Alice. Who would ever give a pirate the nickname ‘Beige’? That would be crazy.”
“No. This. This is crazy. Running a cursed sailing program that murders teenagers is what’s crazy. And by the way, O.C.E.A.N. Doug, whatever your waiver says, there’s nothing on your website about any of this stuff with pirates and curses. It was all just videos of Long Island kids mooning over adventure—”
“I mean, it’s there. You must have just clicked on the wrong thing or whatever.”
She stamps her foot, which is cute considering her feet aren’t even touching the floor.
“Look, do you want to hear the explanation? Or do you just want to argue with me about this?”
I roll my eyes and start stacking up the papers on my desk.
“Ugh, fine,” she says.
“You want to—you want to have a seat, or—?”
“I’ll float, thanks.”
“Fine.” I lean back in my chair and rub my forehead. The Tylenol does nothing. “So—” the lightning and thunder helpfully punctuate this sentence—“this all started around the time of the American Revolution. O.C.E.A.N.’s campus—the building you’re in right now—was built by a wealthy eccentric named Walter Theseus.”
“Was everything on the eastern seaboard built by a wealthy eccentric?”
“More or less. Anyway, Theseus was a bit of an amateur explorer. Sailed here from Europe, on the same ship we still use for the program.”
“Wait, so that ship out there is more than 200 years old?”
“I mean—” I shrug—“parts of it have been replaced over the years. Basically all of them.”
“Anyway, Theseus eventually came to Cape Cod and built this mansion, but not before visiting the Gold Coast of Africa. There, he ran afoul of a pirate named Black Alice, just as she was burying her gold—”
“Oh come on, pirates burying gold? That whole conception is a myth.”
“So are ghosts. Do you want to hear this story or not?”
She rolls her flaming eyes. “Fine.”
“Anyway, Theseus meets this pirate with a giant chest of gold to bury, and he thinks Hey, I’ll probably need some gold to pay my way in the New World. So he has one of his sailors distract Alice with a wild goose chase looking for a rare albino giraffe, and he steals a bit of her treasure.”
“There aren't any giraffes on the Gold Coast—”
“Well, Black Alice didn't know that.”
“He thought she wouldn’t notice the missing treasure—but unfortunately, he stole a really distinctive piece. A golden statue of a centaur.”
“Unfortunately, Black Alice knew a bit of voodoo, and she put a curse on it. Theseus got to New England, built this mansion, and settled down—but every seven years since, someone has died on his property, and their ghost has been trapped forever, bound to his mansion and his ship.”
“This is sounding suspiciously like a Disney movie.”
“Disney didn’t invent pirates or cursed gold. They’ve barely invented anything. They’re just really good at suing people.”
She balls her hands up in fists, looks at the ceiling, like she's itching to punch God in the face for her rotten luck. Then she sighs, drops them at her sides. “Well, basically none of that story made any sense, but—fine. What’s the cure? How do I fix this?”
“The—the what now?” The room illuminates with lightning, and Sunny fades in and out along with it.
“How do I get back into my body and…back alive?”
“Why would you be able to do that? That makes no sense.”
“It’s just—there’s always a cure. There’s always a way to undo a curse. Right? Always!” Oh great, she really believes this. The bubbliness is coming back. I should have been more careful with what I wished for. “All I have to do is find the gold centaur and return it to the Gold Coast!”
“That is the most ridiculous plan I’ve ever heard, and anyway, how are you going to do it?”
“I mean, I’ve got a ship, right? You said my soul was bound to the house and the ship, so I can go basically wherever I want. Right? And I’ll get Gabriel to help. He’s nice! He's smart! This will be easy!” She’s floating toward the door now. “Gabriel! Hey, Gabriel!”
“You realize he can’t see you!” I yell after her. “I’m the only one here who can see ghosts! Are you really—” Never mind. She’s gone.
I sigh. Sink back into my chair, crack my back. I jump up when I hear Jacinta’s knock on my doorframe.
“So,” she says, “you want to call her parents and tell them the bad news, or should I?”
Project CoNarrative is an ongoing multimedia experiment in collaborative storytelling from two award-winning authors. We're taking turns writing chapters and building on each other's work, improv-style. You can read them for free, here on the internet, as we write them.
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