Ghosts Ex Machina (Chapter Ten)
Updated: Apr 15
This is the tenth chapter of an ongoing collaborative novel project. Click here to start with
chapter one, or here to see all the chapters.
“What is happening?” Jenny moans and hugs her jacket, several layers of shirts, and a flimsy summer scarf around herself, clearly trying to cover any exposed skin.
She’s blue around her lips and her nose is red and running. “When is this cold going to let up? I thought I was going to be able to get a tan this summer!”
Beside her, Margaret has crafted an impromptu winter outfit out of a lifejacket, galoshes, and waxy coveralls that clearly came out of a sailors’ supply closet. “Is it some sort of storm? It cannot be normal weather for this time of year.”
I don’t blame them for their misery, but I am a little smug about it—and smugly pleased to not be able to feel the cold. Not that the cold ever really bothered me when I was alive. (And I mean, I did actually bring my winter jacket on this summer trip, like a weirdo. Not that I need it now.)
“And should we be moving this f-f-fast? I just d-didn’t think it was going to be this way.” Jenny pulls her hat tight over her ears and blows into her hands. Both she and Margaret wear bright orange knit caps they found somewhere once we were well under way. It’s actually comical how little they now look like the fashionable affluenzed teens they were when they arrived at O.C.E.A.N.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. I smirk, enjoying myself entirely too much. A little bit of unseasonable ghostly cold and these girls have crumbled like actual snowflakes.
Unlike Gabe, who—at the helm—looks like a freaking Abercrombie model in a pea coat and knit scarf. He’s loving this. Of course he is. He wouldn’t be bothered by a little cold wind—even if it is generated by the breath of a hundred (give or take) angry souls.
Well, they aren’t all angry. Definitely more or less annoyed, though. At Ted, who is hiding somewhere below deck. I guess. (I haven’t seen him, or Doug, in days.) How does a ghost even end up owing money to other ghosts? Something about gambling and promises and not thinking he’d ever end up alive again to have to pay off his debts, and blah blah blah. I only got the gist of it as he sped past me to find a hiding spot.
I snort and lift my eyes to the sails, which are swollen to what seems to me to be troubling capacity. Like, can they really take this amount of strain? How long before they just . . . rip right off their moorings? Or, whatever the attachy thingys are called. I don’t know the terminology. What do I know about sailing, anyhow? That’s why I came on this trip—to learn about sailing and have an adventure.
Check the adventure box, at least. I grumble and hug my ghostly chest. I’ve been hiding below deck, too. Sulking, I guess. Re-reading Jane Eyre because I can. But you know what? I deserve a little me time. I. Deserve. It.
Roman meanders out onto the deck, hands tucked into his armpits and face pale. He joins Jenny and Margaret at the railing and gives a condescending sniff. “God, this weather. How can you all stand it out here? Come below—I nicked a pack of my dad’s cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey before I left home.”
Jenny leans closer. “And you got them on board without Doug catching you?”
“Like that fat loser would notice.”
I flatten my mouth and narrow my eyes. Using all my concentration, I bowl through Roman—straight through his stupid thick chest and his Ralph Lauren jacket. He stumbles against the side of the ship and doubles over his stomach, going even paler. And as The Heraclitus crests a swell and lists sideways down the far side, he greens and pukes suddenly, thankfully over the edge and not on the girls.
I grin and Margaret says, “Ew, gross,” while Jenny leaps back with a shriek.
“I think we’re . . . just going to go back to our cabin,” Jenny says.
“No, wai—” Roman slaps a hand over his mouth and gags as the ocean waters turn rougher.
“See ya,” Margaret says.
“That was some grade-A haunting,” Ted says in my ear. “You’re not a rookie anymore.”
“Dude is just seasick.” I turn to find Ted lurking in the shadows of the masthead. “I was trying to make him feel uncomfortable—not puke his guts up.”
“Sure, but we’re on a ship. So a little discomfort leads to, well—” He gestures at Roman. “And now I feel like I don’t have anything left to teach you.” He wipes away an imaginary tear.
I quirk my mouth. “Should you be out here?” I glance meaningfully at the ghosts propelling us forward. They’ve been pretty relentless since Doug brought them in on our little scheme a week ago. I guess the prospect of resurrection to new life is pretty motivating. One good thing about having them scare Ted below deck is that he hasn’t had the opportunity to torture Gabe, at least.
“Eh . . . These older ghosts are kind of thick, you know?”
“Like, easily distracted. You get them going on a task and they sink into it. Forget the rest of the world even exists. For years, if you’re lucky.”
“So that’s how you’ve managed to avoid their wrath and rage all this time?”
Ted grins. “Now you get it.”
The schooner rolls over another huge swell and ocean spray splatters the deck—splatters right through me. I dart a glance at Gabe. “Where abouts do you think we are?”
“How should I know? Do you think I can read the stars or something?”
“Well aren’t you talking to Doug?”
“I haven’t seen Doug in a week. I’ve been hiding in galley.”
“What do you mean you haven’t seen Doug?”
“Why? What’s the big deal?”
I gape at him. “Well I haven’t seen him either!”
“Where’ve you been?”
“Moping somewhere, not paying attention!”
“Well, okay, so maybe I’ve been chilling out a bit. But life has been a little stressful for me since I got to O.C.E.A.N., alright? I thought I could use some time off.”
Ted is silent for so long I wonder if he’s crossed over, at last, to whatever comes beyond a ghostly existence. Then he shakes himself and says, “But we’ve been at sea for a week.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
“And the kid is at the helm.” He points different directions, like he’s trying to connect dots that just . . . won’t. “Ghosts in the sails, teenager at the helm. I mean, Doug has to be somewhere on this ship.” Then he rounds on me. “How come you never came and told me before now that you hadn’t seen him?”
“I thought that he was with you—wherever you were.”
“Okay, okay. Let’s think this through.” Ted presses his hands to his eyes. “There’s no way Gabe has just been sailing this thing every day with no idea where he’s going. If Doug is actually missing, someone would have noticed, right? Jacinta, or someone.”
“Right, but unfortunately Doug is the only one who can see or talk to us, so—”
“You don’t have to remind me.” Ted pushes off and floats up to where Gabe steers The Heraclitus. He hovers in front of Gabe’s face for a few moments, tilting his head here and there. “Huh,” he says.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking for enchantments.”
I giggle. I can’t help it. “Uh, what?”
“Oh, like curses are so believable, but enchantments are just ridiculous.”
“Okay, that’s fair.”
“Come on.” Ted gestures for me to follow him.
“Where are we going?”
“To search the ship, obviously. Do you think anything that’s happening is remotely normal?”
Ted and I head below deck, into shadows that swallow us up. I have a vague sense of changing temperature as the light shifts, and then we’re into the narrow corridor and Ted pushes into Doug’s cabin. Nothing seems to be amiss—in fact everything seems a little too tidy, for Doug.
Ted swings a circle around the space, and then he points. “There, that desk drawer.” Emitting from a crack is a sliver of golden light. We exchange a weighted look before Ted takes a deep breath and slams his foot into the side of the desk.
The drawer pops open to reveal the centaur, which is glowing and . . . humming.
Right. Okay. So it’s not just a cursed centaur; it’s a magic one, too.
Then Ted says the last thing I would have expected him to. “We need to check out the laundry room.”
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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