• KBHoyle

Ghosts Come in Grunge, and This Is Definitely a Disney Movie (Chapter Four)

Updated: Dec 15, 2019


This is the fourth chapter of an ongoing collaborative novel project. Click here to start with chapter one, or here to see all the chapters.

⬅︎Chapter three


So all I’ve got, now that I’m a ghost, are the clothes I had on my back when I went over the edge of the dock and my copy of Jane Eyre that I guess I managed to grab just before I hit my head on the ship and went into the water—where I drowned.


Or maybe it was the head injury that killed me. I don’t know. It’s all a little fuzzy. Dying will do that to a person. 


It’s a good thing I like Jane Eyre, because it looks like she and I are going to be spending a lot of time together. 


High in the crow’s nest, I flip through the pages and stare at the waves crashing against the rocks at the base of the cliff. The book is the only thing I can truly feel. Everything else ranges between the consistency of JELL-O and mist. I would float away entirely if it weren’t for whatever it is that anchors me to this ship. And to the campus and mansion, apparently. The curse of Black Alice. Beige Alice. Whatever. 


My throat constricts and little ghostie tears trickle down my cheeks. How it’s even possible for me to cry, I have no freaking idea, but here we are.

 

And Doug was right. He’s the only one who can see or hear me. I went straight to Gabriel after leaving his office yesterday, and I tried to get Gabriel to see what has become of me, to absolutely no effect. Gabriel just stood at the railing of the porch and stared, for hours, like he was the one who had died. 


I mean, I’m glad he’s sad for me, but seriously dude. 


Car doors, slamming, angry voices. The sounds echo down over the cliffs to me. Leaving Jane Eyre hovering in the crow’s nest, I float up and away from the rocking schooner—to the ominous mansion that is OMG definitely haunted


It’s a couple—Boomers, by the silver threading their hair. Super wealthy by the, well, Lexus they drove up in and the fact that a literal driver in one of those fancy suits is standing outside their car all proper-like while they storm up to the mansion. Geez, their names could totally be Biff and Buffy. 


I snort at my own joke. 


It’s been a day since my accidental death, time enough for parents to have been notified. I have no idea when Mom and Dad and Poppy will come about my body (I’ve been avoiding thinking about it), but this is the first set of other parents to show up—that I’ve noticed. I’ve been sulking down at the ship, mostly. 


The trees rustle, and I turn to look at them. The wind? They rustle again, like a . . . wave. I scowl and pull back. Weird. 


Not like anything about my time here so far has been exactly normal. 


Shouting, inside the house. And then the front doors burst open and Biff and Buffy sweep across the porch and back down the steps, a thin boy with a pinched face in tow. He casts a frightened look over his shoulder and then hurries to keep up with his parents. 


“I will be demanding a full refund,” Biff says, shaking his finger at the mansion. “And you will be hearing from my lawyer.” 


I look. Doug stands in the doorway with his arms crossed. “I expect no less,” he says, too calmly. His gaze goes to me, and his chest rises and falls with a deep sigh. 


“Come on, Frank, darling.” Buffy yanks the thin boy into the rear seat of the Lexus. “Mommy will take care of you.” 


Doug turns back inside, rubbing his temples, as the car speeds away. Behind me, the trees shake again, and I swear this time I hear a sound—like breathy laughter. 


“Is anyone—?”


“Hi there.” 


Ahhh!” I lash out, kicking and punching wildly before I remember I can’t make contact with anything anymore. 


But my fist hits someone, solidly, across the face. And he can clearly see me, because he said hi. And when my knuckles strike flesh, he grunts and ducks out of reach. “Hey, watch it. That hurts.” 


I stop flailing, breathing hard. (Yeah, yeah, breathing. I don’t know how I’m breathing as a ghost, either.) “You . . . you . . .” I gulp, swallow, start again. “You can see me?” 


“More than that. I’m like you.” The boy, who stands (floats?) several inches taller than me, stretches out his arms with a wild grin. “Ghost.” He makes jazz hands. 


“Ghost,” I say. “Ghost.” I look him up and down. “You’re a ghost.” 


“Guilty.” 


“Doug said he was the only person around here who could see ghosts.” 


“Yeah—the only living person. All the ghosts can see each other. Obviously.” 


All the ghosts? How many of you are there here?”


“Us.” 


“What?”


He leans closer. “How many of us are there. You’re dead, remember? Fell off the pier? I saw it—nasty way to go. I choked on a piece of crab.” He grimaces. “Never mind. That’s embarrassing. But, uh, yeah. There are thirty-some-odd of us floating around here. Let’s see . . . one every seven years for the last two hundred forty-ish years. Yeah, it’s definitely over thirty now. Hard to keep track, though. Some of the older ones stay mostly faded these days. They don’t think haunting is as fun as we do. Boomers, am I right?” 


“Haunting—Was that you in the trees?” 


“Nah, that’s Manny. Haunting the trees is kind of his thing.” 


“Manny,” I say weakly. 


“Jacinta’s cousin. He’s been here for twenty-eight years.” 


If I were still alive, this would be the point that I would sink to the ground, all weak-kneed like a Victorian damsel, but I don’t have any mass anymore, so when I let my knees go, I just float a little more sideways than before. “I need to . . . to . . . um . . .”


“Sit down?” 


“Yeah.” 


“Too bad. No more sitting for you.” Ghost-boy grins. 


I glare at him, really studying him for the first time. Teenager, like me. Not bad looking, for a ghost-boy. Baggy flannel shirt tied around his waist below a Nine Inch Nails graphic T, low-hanging carpenter jeans, wide black belt with silver studs, army boots, shaggy brown hair that looks in need of a wash he’s definitely not getting now that he’s a ghost. I drag my eyes from the top of his head to his toes and back up again. So he’s a grunge ghost-boy. “And who are you, then?” 


“Ted.” Grunge ghost-boy smirks and offers his hand. “I was next after Manny.” 


“Next?” I take his hand, and there’s something bizarrely comforting about how solid his grip feels in mine. 


“Yeah—next. You know, the whole curse thing. Every seven years. Didn’t Dougie tell you?” 


“Oh, right. Beige Alice.” 


Ted snorts, his shoulders shaking with laughter. “What did you say? Beige Alice?” 


“Humor is sort of a coping mechanism for me, you know, for stressful situations. Like when I die and turn into a ghost.” 


Ted the grunge ghost-boy is still laughing. He snorts a few more times, and I’m more than a little annoyed that he and I both snort when we laugh. Then he straightens and wipes his streaming eyes and says. “Beige Alice. I’m so using that from now on. Did you say that to Dougie? I bet he loved that. Come on, let’s go inside.” 


“Why do you call him Dougie?” I say as we float to the mansion. “Doesn’t that offend him?” 


“I’ve always called him Dougie—I didn’t see any reason to stop just because I became a ghost.” Ted pushes through the door without opening it, but I stop and stare. It still feels weird to just . . . float through walls and stuff. 


Not like I could get the doorknobs to work for me even if I tried. 


“Oh come on,” Ted says, popping back out. He grabs my wrist and yanks me through. 

In the dim entryway of the mansion, he continues, “I mean, he does hate the name, but it would be kind of a dick move to hold a grudge against his dead little bro, so—”


Wait.” 


Ted jiggles his eyebrows. 


“That’s why he keeps captaining the ship—why he keeps working for O.C.E.A.N.—even though he knows about the curse and the deaths and stuff. Because he lost you to it!” 


“Well, yeah, but there’s a little more going on than that.” 


“Like what?” 


We both lean to one side as Margaret and Jenny come into the entryway entangled in each other, sobbing and sobbing. Behind them, Jacinta trails in a smart suit, wearing a tight scowl. The girls sniff and shudder as they pass within inches of us. 


“ . . . just can’t believe she’s dead!” Jenny says. 


I furrow my brow and quirk my lips. I didn’t even know these girls. 


“To the kitchen, ladies. There is tea waiting,” Jacinta says. Then she stops cold between me and Ted and takes a deep breath. If Doug hadn’t said he was the only one who could see ghosts—if I hadn’t tested his statement already on Gabriel—I would think she was looking right at me. But her eyes glaze over and she shivers and she hurries on. 


“Sometimes I like to knock stuff over when the new kids are here,” Ted says. “Jacinta knows what’s up, but it’s always fun to freak the little affluenza’d kiddos out.” He grins. 


“You—we—can do that?” I pass my hand through a vase on a nearby table. “How?” 


“I’ll show you, don’t worry.” He stretches and floats toward the back of the house where the windows look out over the bay. “Anyhow, yeah, I’m Dougie’s little brother. And I’m one reason he sticks around O.C.E.A.N. But there’s more. I mean, everyone who works here has some connection or other to one of the ghosts.” 


“They do?” 


“Yeah. Think about it. Why else would you work on a haunted ship?” 


“But how would you know it’s haunted if you never saw the ghosts?” 


He cants his head at me. “Did you have to see any ghosts when you got here to know this place was haunted?” 


I bite my lip and shrug. “I guess not.” 


“Dougie is special, though. I guess I am too. You see, we are the descendants of Walter Theseus.” 


“The . . . the guy who started all this. Who stole the golden centaur from Beige Alice and sent her on a wild goose chase after the albino giraffe and started O.C.E.A.N. and got all of us cursed. That guy.” 


“Yep.” 


“And let me guess, there’s something in the curse that always draws a descendant of this Theseus guy back to O.C.E.A.N. Like, your family just can’t get away from it.” 


“Basically.” Ted grimaces. “Our mom moved us as far land-locked as she could get us, and I still came back. Like, this place called to me. I can’t explain it. And then the curse took me, so obviously Dougie came after me. Became captain, even, so he could always be near me. Masochistic bastard.” 


“Geez. He must really love you.”

 

“I think it’s more of a love-hate relationship at this point.” 


“And have members of your family always been able to see the ghosts?” 


“We think so. We think it’s part of Black”—he snorts, chuckles—“Beige Alice’s curse on our family in particular.” 


“So . . .” I stomp my foot. “Why did Doug insist the curse can’t be broken? Isn’t that why he’s here? To try and find a way to set you free?” 


“Dougie isn’t exactly an optimist, and this isn’t a Disney movie.” 


“What is it with you and your brother and hating on Disney movies?” 


“Listen, we’re both pretty certain this curse can’t be lifted.”

 

“Yeah? Well, I have a ship now, and I am an optimist. And you know what else? I do like Disney movies. I’m going to find that golden centaur and just see if I can’t break it.” 


“You have a ship now. That’s cute.”


I raise my chin and march—okay, float fast—toward Doug’s office. On the way there, another ghost joins me, and I only mildly jump when he comes through the wall. 


“Hola,” he says. 


“You must be Manny.” 


He waggles his fingers and smiles sheepishly. 


“Sunny!” Ted calls after me. “That is your name, right? Wait up.” He comes along beside us. “Sunny, I mean, we don’t even know if finding and returning the centaur will break the curse. Maybe Beige Alice just got pissed at old Theseus and was like, ‘Hey, here’s a curse for you and your descendants for the rest of time. Enjoy!’ ”


“Yeah, well we won’t know unless we at least try, now will we?” 


“Will we?” Manny echoes. 


“Thank you, Manny.” 


Feeling more chipper than I have since I died, I push through the wall into Doug’s office. 


What?” he says. He turns from hanging up his phone. “Oh good. The three of you. Together.” 


“I know a little more now,” I say, “and I think it’s definitely time to try and break this curse. And I think it’s really rotten you haven’t tried to break it already, considering your own brother died for it.” 


Doug raises an eyebrow and folds his arms. 


“And . . . and I don’t want to stay a ghost for the rest of my . . . er . . . life. So it’s time to find the centaur and go to Africa and return it to Beige Alice. And if you say no, then I’m going to haunt you for the rest of your miserable career here at O.C.E.A.N. And I will do it, and I’ll be the best at it, because Ted is going to teach me how—he said so—and you’ll never have any peace because I know you have to stay here because Ted also told me about how you’re related Theseus, and that must be part of the curse, too. So—so there.” 


“Thanks, Ted.” 


“No problem, Dougie.” 


Doug sighs and rubs his face. “Anything you want to add, Manny? Or did you just get tired of the trees?” 


“I like the new girl.” 


“Yeah? She’s a pain in my ass.” 


But behind his fingers, Doug is smiling. “Alright, alright. I guess this can’t go on like this forever. First things first, though.” He drops his hands. “Your parents will be here in an hour. Time to prepare myself to prove to them that they did, indeed, sign away their daughter’s life in an educational program waiver.” He pulls a pained expression. “Always a good time. I don’t recommend you watch the exchange, Sunny. If you want something to do . . . go haunt the cooks on the ship or mess with the sailors. That’s always good for a laugh.” 


With a heavy sigh, Doug gets up and stomps out. I exchange a smug smile with Manny and Ted says, “Good old Dougie. Couldn’t ask for a better big brother, really.” He floats onto his back, kicks up his legs, and crosses his arms behind his head. 


Chapter five➡︎


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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