Not Just Any Body
The picture was huge, four feet tall and nearly two and a half feet wide, not to mention the thing weighed a ton. The frame was some kind of heavy hard wood, carved with intricate scrolls and whirls. If a person were to stare at it long enough, one could almost make out faces, staring back at them. It took both Riley and Patterson to get the thing down to the guest cabin and stowed away. The whole time they were carrying it, the owner franticly called after them, “Please be careful, the frame is family heirloom. I don't know what I shall do if it were to be damaged.”
Lee Crane, Seaview's captain, pulled the young woman aside, trying to reassure her. “They'll be careful, I promise you. I will personally come down and inspect the frame for damage with you if you like,” he said. On the other side of the dock, clipboard in hand, Commander Chip Morton did his best to hide the grin threatening to emerge. Casanova Crane. Another one bites the dust. Already the lady in question, the widow of the late Ambassador Montgomery James Kelly Jacobson, was clinging to Lee like he was the last man on the planet. Chip paused to stifle a chuckle. Let Lee deal with her. She looked a little too high maintenance for his tastes.
“Oh, Captain, that would make me so very happy. I would hate to see any harm come to Montgomery's painting. Why, it's all I have left of him now that he's gone.” Eleanora Elaina Maria Jacobson was saying, one hand on Crane's arm. Chip saw Lee cast an apprehensive glance in his direction, but Chip keep his attention focused on the paperwork in front of him.
All she has left of him, my left foot, Chip thought, looking over the massive list of belongings Eleanora was planning on taking with her, in addition to the body of her husband. Her much older husband. Looking at the petite, dark haired young woman, Chip figured she couldn't have more than thirty-five. Ambassador Jacobson had turned seventy-four two weeks before he died. Talk about May-December romances. . .
That was Seaview's reason for being on this small Caribbean island of Kartonga. The American ambassador had died and Seaview had been asked to bring his body and the grieving widow back to the United States. What no one had counted on was Mrs. Jacobson's insistence that she bring most, if not all, her worldly possessions along with her. Mrs. Jacobson had immediately latched onto Seaview's skipper and hadn't let him out of her sight from the minute the submarine made port. Chip wasn't the only one who had noticed.
Kowalski tightened the strap on another crate and signaled the crane operator it was ready to be moved. Stepping way as the crate was lifted high, Ski saw Chief Sharkey hand another sheaf of papers to the Exec.
“Hey Chief,” Ski called out as Sharkey walked past.
“What is it Kowalski? We don't have time for a lot of gab,” the Chief said, but stopped to see what Ski wanted.
The dark haired crewmen lifted his chin in the direction of the skipper and the young widow, standing to the side of the docks. The young lady had her arm linked with their captain and seemed to be almost leaning against him. Her long dark dress clung to her slender body and she leaned against their skipper as the breeze blew across the docks. Her long dark hair fluttered in the wind.
“Seems like Mrs. Jacobson's gotten pretty attached to the skipper. You don't think she's looking for her next husband, do ya Chief?”
Sharkey laughed out loud at Ski's suggestion. “Don't you even let the thought cross your mind. In case you haven't figured it out, the skipper already has a lady friend. Her name is Seaview. Now quit your yakking and get back to work. We've still got half the island to pack up get and the skipper wants to shove off before 1700.”
A few hours later Lee finally was able to convince Mrs. Jacobson to retire to her cabin until Seaview was ready to cast off. He managed to peel her off his arm and deposit her in her cabin where he left her with the painting of her dead husband. With a grateful smile, the dark haired young widow slowly closed the door, and Lee, gently shaking his head at her seemingly eccentric ways, made his way back up to the Control Room.
Nora, as her late husband often called her, gazed with undisguised passion at the enormous painting resting against the bulkhead.
“Monty, I hope you understand what I'm going through for you,” Nora said out loud. The surface of the painting shimmered like the surface of a pond touched by the a soft wind and the figure on the canvas blinked golden brown eyes.
“Nora, that you?” the figure in the picture said, then slowly emerged from its resting place. Looking pale and transparent, the ghost of Ambassador Montgomery James Kelly Jacobson floated about two inches off the deck.
Dropping the sweet and innocent act, Nora faced her dead husband. “Who were you expecting, Glenda the good witch? Get yourself together, we only have until midnight tonight to put this spell together and find you a body.”
“From the way you’re clinging to Crane, I’d say you’ve already found one you like. You’re supposed to be a witch, not a leach,” the spirit said, watching as Nora took a key from a long chain around her neck and unlocked a heavy wooden box on the desk. Tilting the lid back, Nora removed a ancient leather bound book and sat it carefully on the bunk. She slowly began turning the weathered yellow pages.
“Try page 147, I think the spell you want is there. And what do you mean, we only have until midnight? The new moon isn’t that soon is it?”
Nora looked up at the transparent specter. “You died just a little over two weeks a go. Right in the middle of the moon’s cycle. Had you died on the night of the full moon, like we talked about, we wouldn’t have this hurry, but no, you had to go and die halfway through the cycle. You know the rules. We have until the new moon following the death of the body to find a new vessel for our soul or we’re stuck in that accursed frame.”
“I know all that, after all, we’ve been doing this for nearly two hundred years. What I don’t understand is why Crane? Surely you could have found a suitable man already on the island? Why did it have to be him?” Monty sounded slightly jealous as he voiced his concerns to his window. Nora waved a dismissive hand.
“Darling, this isn't just any body, it's Lee Crane's body. Crane is perfect. He’s young, he’s handsome, he’s young, did I mention he was handsome? He’s the perfect vessel and closer to my own age so it won’t look odd when you take over his body and start courting me. You’re not jealous are you, Monty?” Nora asked sweetly as she glanced up at her dearly departed.
Monty crossed his arms and tried not to look sour. “I just don’t understand why it HAS to be him. He’s all you’ve talked about since you saw him on that newscast a few months back. Why don’t you pick someone more of my station? Admiral Nelson for example. He’s respected, he’s mature, he’s got money. He could set you up in the manner in which you’ve grown accustomed to living. Crane can’t have that much money.”
Nora sighed at her ghostly husband's suggestions. “Darling, I’m sure that Admiral Nelson would make a lovely choice but in case you haven’t noticed, Admiral Nelson, while he was weathered the years very well, has a number of years under his belt. If I went with Nelson, in another twenty or thirty years, I'd be doing this all over again. Crane, on the other hand, has no offspring to question a sudden change in attitude, and any friends he has will quickly loose interest when he marries me. We're looking at another fifty to sixty years together, at the very least. As far as money goes, as you yourself have pointed out, we’ve been doing this for nearly two hundred years. We’ve amassed our own fortune. I’m sure I can be frugal enough for me and my new husband,” Nora said with a smirk. She was determined to have Lee Crane as her new husband, even if Monty didn’t agree. He’d change his mind soon enough once his soul resided in the young, healthy body of Seaview’s young, healthy skipper.
Nora skimmed the pages of her spell book, noting the ingredients for the spell to transfer Monty’s soul into Crane’s body. From the box on the desk, she sorted through various bags and bottles as she read off what she needed from the book.
“Thirteen whiskers from a black cat. We’ve got those, good. What else do we need?” she asked. Monty bent over the book, reading the faded script.
“Blood from a turnip?”
Nora held up amber bottle filled with a dark, cloudy fluid. “Should be plenty,” she said, before setting the bottle aside. “What else?”
“Tail of a tailless lizard.”
Nora weighed a small bag in one hand. “Perfect,” she confirmed and set it with the bottle.
“What about hens’ teeth?” Monty asked, drawing a see-through finger over the page. Nora took out a small box and gave it a quick shake. The contents rattle and Nora added it to the growing pile.
“Oh dear,” the ghost moaned. Nora looked up, her pale blue eyes concerned.
“What is it? Did we forget something?” she asked, rushing to the spirit's side and scanning the book's pages. She found the passage and shared a stricken look with her husband.
“A blue eyed frog? I don’t remember that one. Is this the right spell? Nora asked, flipping pages, trying to find another spell. There was only one spell for transferring souls and it required an ingredient they didn’t have.
“You’re gonna have to turn a couple of crewmen into frogs. Surely you can find a couple of men with blue eyes?” Monty said, with desperation in his voice. He didn’t want to spend eternity in a painting. He might not like Crane, but any body was better than no body.
“Do you know how hard that’s going to be?” wailed Nora as she began to pace. This wasn’t going according to plan at all. She should have checked everything before they came onboard. Now it was too late to go back. Monty was right; she was going to have to find a couple of blue eyes crewmen to turn into frogs. But who? How? She couldn’t very well wonder all over the ship looking at random crewmen checking eye color. She was supposed to be an empty headed, grieving widow. In the middle of her pacing there came a soft knock on the door.
With a muffled curse, Monty winked out like a light, suddenly reappearing in the painting as if he had never moved. Nora collected herself and carefully opened the door.
Standing on the other side of the door was the tall blond officer that Crane had introduced as Commander Morton. He looked down at her with a winning smile and brilliant crystal blue eyes. “Ma’am the captain has asked me if you would like to join us in the nose for dinner. We have an excellent chef onboard and he always produces a marvelous meal,” Morton said to her. Nora smiled, her gaze drawn to Morton's notable eyes.
“Of course, Mr. Morton, I would love to join you. I do have a favor to ask though,” Nora said, the beginnings of an idea in her head.
She asks for a salt free diet, I swear I’m jumping ship , Morton though as the young widow smiled up at him. “I’ll see what I can do,” Morton said.
“I do so love to cook, would it be an imposition if I could talk with your chef? It’s been so long since I’ve had a chance to talk recipes with anyone. . .” she said wistfully.
Chip considered her request. Cookie loved talking shop with anyone, and Lee had said to extend her every possible courtesy. So sure why not?
“I don’t see a problem with that. Would you like to follow me, ma’am, and I’ll show you to the galley?”
“Oh, yes, please lead the way, sir.” Nora said with a sly glance back to the painting in her cabin. She pulled the door shut behind her and she followed Morton into the corridor.
“Is our guest settled in, Lee?” Admiral Nelson asked Lee as he stood at plot table. He noticed the missing Exec, and with a raised eyebrow, glanced around the Control Room. Morton was no where in sight.
“He’s gone to ask Mrs. Jacobson if she would like to join us for dinner,” Lee explained, taking a guess at Nelson's examination of the Control Room. “She wanted to visit the galley, so Chip escorted her down. He should be on his way back anytime now,” Lee said, just as Chip Morton came through the Control Room. He wore a puzzled expression on his face as he came to a stop at the table.
“Problem? Lee asked, seeing his friend’s expression. Chip only shook his head.
“Lee, that is one weird lady. Kept looking at my eyes and asking if there were many crewmen on board with blue eyes. She is one weird woman,” Chip replied. Lee only grinned.
“Well, once we get back to Santa Barbara , we’ll be rid of her. She is a bit clingy for my tastes. What on earth did she want a tour of the galley for?”
“Said she like to cook and wanted to talk with Cookie. I left the two of them talking about cherry pies when I left. Like I said, weird.”
Nelson chuckled and slapped Morton on the back. “We’ll just humor her till we can get her home. She’s just lost her husband. I think it’s only fair to her to give her a few distractions until they lay him to rest. I have a few things to work on in the lab, I’ll see you gentlemen at dinner.”
With that Nelson ascended the staircase to leave his officers to ponder the odd ways of their lady guest.
“Oh, that smells just heavenly,” Nora gushed as Cookie sat the steaming cherry pie on the counter. Cookie smiled at the young widow as he bustled about getting the officer’s dinner ready to be served in the nose. The pie was the last thing to finish. Cookie was especially proud of his cherry pie, Mr. Morton and the Skipper both always had a huge slice even if they picked over their dinner. Not that Mr. Morton was a picky eater; it’s just sometimes he might skip a meal if things were stressful. The skipper was a whole other ballgame. The captain ate like a bird and it drove Cookie wild trying to come up with some dishes their persnickety captain would eat. Cherry pie was a guaranteed winner and therefore when ever they had quests, Cookie always made it a point to bake one.
With a start, Cookie forget to check to see if there was any whipped cream. “Be right back, ma’am, need to make a check on something,” the chef said and left Nora alone with the fresh baked cherry pie.
Nora glanced around to see if anyone was looking. She held both hands, palms down over the warm pie and very quietly began chanting.
Eyes of blue
Best be warned
Eat of this pie
And you’ll become a frog.
Eyes of gold
Dark of hair
Eat of this pie
And be protected from harm.
“You call that a spell?” a voice whispered in her ear. Nora snorted.
“Get back in that painting, you old goat. It’s the best I can come up with right now. You want a body, don’t you? Then leave this to me. I know what I’m doing. All the ones eat this pie will be frogs by nightfall. All but Crane, he eats this and he’ll be protected. Trust me darling, I have this all planned out. Nothing can go wrong.”
Dinner was a peaceful affair. Much to Cookie’s delight, everyone ate well, including the normally picky skipper. All the officers at the table had high praise for the desert. The cherry pie pan came back empty, and Nora kept her smile to herself, counting Nelson, Morton, O’Brien, and the one called Sparks as future spell components. All she had to do now was wait.
Chip woke feeling about half sick and with the sense that something wasn’t quite right. He tried to sit up in his bunk, only to find he wasn’t himself. Literally. Looking down at his chest, he saw green skin and long thin legs. With panic surging through his blood, Chip jumped off the bunk, landing on the floor with a dull thud. He hopped to the desk, then up onto the built in dresser to look into the mirror.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greenest on of all? A bright green bullfrog stared back at Chip from the mirror, his own blue eyes full of disbelief and panic. This couldn’t be, I'm a frog, people don’t get turned into frogs, I can’t be a frog, I just couldn’t be!
The Admiral Lee! Chip’s frantic mind screamed as he hopped back to the desk. He stopped with one webbed foot above the intercom button. The door to his cabin eased open and Chip hopped backwards as Mrs. Jacobson entered, a wooden box tucked under one arm.
“Oh, Mr. Morton, where are you?” she giggled as she threw the light switch, blinding Chip as his sensitive eyes tried to adjust to the sudden light. He felt her hands close around him as he tried to kick his long legs to get away.
“Put me down, you crazy lady!” Chip croaked, his normally deep voice scratchy coming out of a froggy throat.
“Hush now, Mr. Morton. You are about to become an important part of my plan. You and those lovely blue eyes,” she crooned and dropped Chip into the box, swiftly closing the lid.
There was just enough light seeping around the edges of the lid for Chip to see he was trapped in the box with three other frogs.
“Nice of you to join us Mr. Morton.” The Admiral’s voice said. Chip stared at the frog who had spoken, understanding dawning on him as the facts soaked in. The Admiral was also a frog. So if the Admiral was a frog, who were the other two?
“We’ve seen a lot of things, lad. Each other as frogs is not something I was willing to bet on,” Nelson said.
“Certainly didn’t see that coming when I joined the Navy,” Sparks ’ voice sounded from the small space.
“What does she want with us, Admiral? What does she need frogs for?” O'Brien's voice asked, unable to stifle the nervous quiver in his voice.
The frog-Nelson glanced upwards as the box was jostled and shaken around. The four frogs were helpless as they were tossed about inside the box. “Not just frogs, for some reason she needs blue eyed frogs. You two got caught in the crossfire, I'm afraid. Chip and I are another story. What I don't know is why. Hopefully we can puzzle this thing out before she gets the chance to follow through with her plans.”
Lee Crane made another circuit if his submarine, as was his habit at this hour of the evening, He passed Chip Morton’s cabin door, seeing no light coming out from under it. Nelson’s cabin was the same. Even Jamie had already turned in for the evening. Lee made his way back to his cabin, feeling well rested and content that so far everything was going well. Seaview was on course, everything was running smoothly.
Lee opened the door to his cabin. Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, then something slammed into his head. Lee dropped to the floor, out like a light, while Nora Jacobson stood over him, the heavy spell book griped tightly in her hands.
“Sorry I had to do that, darling. I do hope you’ll forgive me,” she said as Monty hovered close by, appraising his future body as Crane lay unconscious on his cabin floor.
Lee slowly came back to consciousness, smelling the nastiest stench in the air. He looked around his dimply lit cabin, confused as to what happened and why the light flickered the way it did. Then he realized the light was coming from candles. They were everywhere, stuck to the desk, setting on the floor, and on the top of the dresser. Also on the desk were a large book, opened, several small bottles and bags and a large wooden box that jerked up and down as if what ever were inside were trying to get out. Lee tried to reach out for the moving box, only to find his wrists were tied to the arms of his chair. He jerked experimentally at the ropes, but the knots were tight and not pulling loose.
“You can’t get away, there’s no use in trying.” Nora said, moving into Lee’s field of vision. With a start, Crane realized she wasn’t alone, but the figure hovering behind her certainly wasn’t of this earth. Lee had seen enough ghosts to recognize another when he saw one. Choking down his own panic, Lee tried to remain calm, but the horrid memories of Kruger swam out of his consciousness, and Lee continued to jerk and pull at his bonds.
“What is it you want?” Lee managed, trying not to let the fear he felt leak into his voice.
“I have what I want. I need your body. Or rather, my husband needs your body. When I die, he’ll get to pick the next vessel for my soul.”
Crane stared in horror at the young woman. “Vessel? What vessel? What are you talking about?” he demanded, hoping to buy some time while he worked on the ropes.
Nora heaved an exasperated sigh. “I don’t see any harm in telling you. In a few minutes it won’t matter anyhow. I am a witch as is my husband. Many years ago, we made a deal for everlasting life. When one of us died, the other would pick a vessel for our departed soul. Until the transfer can be made, the soul is safe in the frame, fashioned just for this purpose, made by the one I made the deal with. The only catch is that we have until the first new moon following the death of the body to find a new vessel and transfer the soul into it. This is the last night. At midnight, the new moon rises to its height before it moves toward its full phase.”
Lee tried to calm himself down. Panic wasn’t going to get him anywhere. If he could make enough noise, maybe Chip in the next cabin over would hear him. Lee started rocking the chair back and forth, the legs thumping against the deck. Nora only smiled at him, and Lee felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. Something about her smile . . .
“I know what you’re doing captain. No one can hear you, or help you if they could.”
Nora began fiddling with a small black cauldron setting on the desk. The source of the stench was the steam rising from the pot. With a long wooden spoon, she stirred the contents of the cauldron, stirring up the horrid stench again. The smell made Lee gag. As Crane watched, Nora opened the box up on the desk and reached in, pulling out a long legged, blue eyed (?) frog. The frog in question was not happy about being handled and squirmed and fidgeted in her hands. Lee wasn’t too surprise when the frog opened its mouth and Chip’s voice croaked out.
“Put me down, let me go! Lee! Lee, what’s she done to you?” the Chip-frog demanded, as Nora held tight to the squirming amphibian.
“I’m fine so far Chip, better than I can say for you. Where’s the Admiral?”
“Still in the box. Me, the Admiral, Sparks and O’Brien were all turned into frogs!” the out rage and disgust in Chip’s voice was clear as he squirmed to get out of Nora’s grasp. Lee thought fast, trying to figure out away out of this. Stalling for time was the only thing he could come up with. Maybe, just maybe the Admiral was working on something as well.
“How did you do it? Turn my officers into frogs?” he asked.
Nora beamed. “Your desert. The cherry pie was bespelled. Anyone who ate it was doomed to turn into frogs, all but you, Crane. The same spell protects you from harm. I need a blue eyed frog to complete the soul transference spell, and when I saw your Mr. Morton here, I knew I had the perfect candidate. I’ll simply add him to the components at the proper time and like magic, Monty’s soul will take over your body.”
The frog-Chip and the skipper exchanged horrified looks. “And what happens to my soul? Crane asked in a small voice.
“You’ll become one with the frame,” the witch said. Lee stared at the frame in the corner. What was only a suggestion before now stood out instant relief. Over fifty faces stared back at Lee, moths twisted in silent screams. Lee felt his heart stop as the realization of what was about to happen to him. Even Chip was repulsed and started squirming again.
“No, you can’t do this, it's not sane!!” Lee exclaimed, desperately trying to break free of his bonds. Nora only laughed it his feeble attempts. Behind her the ghost of Monty was getting impatient.
“Get on with it, Nora, you’re wasting time. It will be midnight soon!” he declared, looking anxiously at the clock on the wall.”
“As you wish my love. Say goodbye to your friends, Lee Crane.”
With that, Nora dropped Chip the frog into the cauldron. Screeching a froggy screech, Chip landed with a wet plot in the bubbling mixture.
From there all hell broke loose.
The cabin was filled with an eerie green glow that settled on Lee’s struggling form. Suddenly there was a deafening clap of thunder, and a gust of wind tore through Lee’s cabin, blowing out all but just a few of the candles. In the dim glow, Lee could just make out the frame of the enchanted picture. It was glowing an angry red and something was happening.
A vortex was forming around the painting, reaching out to the witch and her departed husband, howling and screeching like the winds of a hurricane. Slowly and execrably, the two were drawn closer and closer to the frame. With an unearthly scream that was later reported to have been heard all over the boat, the witch and the ghost were sucked into the painting. The carved whirls and faces seemed to melt away as the souls, some trapped for two hundred years were freed.
Within minutes it was over. Nelson, Sparks and O’Brien blinked at each other owlishly, returned once more to their human forms. One by one, they slowly picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, appraising each other. O'Brien hit the lights, dispelling the candle-born gloom.
“Everyone alright?” Nelson asked, looking around. Looking around, he saw Lee still tied to the chair, his head slumped onto his chest. Nelson hurried to Crane’s side and began picking at the ropes, calling to his friend. Sparks came around on the other side, working on the other wrist. Together they soon had Lee free, but their skipper was till out cold. Nelson tilted Crane’s head upwards. “Lee, come on lad, I need you to wake up for me,” Nelson coaxed, hoping to reach his friend. Finally one confused gold-jade touched eye opened, then the other. Nelson breathed a sigh of relief as Crane stirred and looked around.
“Admiral? Are they gone? What happened to them?” he asked, eyes sweeping the cabin for any sigh of the witch and her ghostly husband. His eyes fell on the unconscious blond officer by the bunk.
“Chip,” Lee breathed, seeing the Exec on the floor, unmoving. O’Brien was already by the XO's side, rolling the other man over onto his back. Lee and Nelson both dropped to their knees by Chip’s still form. Lee took Morton by the shoulders, giving him a shake.
“Chip, come Chip, snap out of it . . .” Lee pleaded.
Chip’s body shuddered under Lee’s grip and with a hacking cough, the XO swam back to life. His brilliant blue eyes opened and darted around in surprise. “What happened? I dreamed I was a frog. How’d I get in your cabin, Lee?”
What seemed like days, but was only hours later, Seaview was making good time back toward the little island to off load the cargo picked up the day before. Without their guests to take back to the United States, Nelson and Crane both decided not to go through the trouble of trying to find someone to take all that stuff. Instead it would be returned back to the Kartonga government and restored to the next ambassador’s home.
Lee and Chip were standing together in the nose, watching through the observation windows the activity on the docks as the Jacobson’s belongings were off loaded
“Lee,” Chip began, only to have his skipper shake his dark head.
“Not now, Chip. I'm still trying to wrap my head around all this. A witch comes onboard Seaview, turns you, the Admiral, O'Brien and Sparks into frogs and wants to stick my soul in a haunted picture frame so the soul of her dead husband can move into my body? That’s too weird, even for us. I don’t want to think about it.” Lee said with a shudder.
“What do you think happened? What went wrong?” Chip asked softly.
“Her spell backfired,” came Nelson’s answer. Both younger men turned to see the Admiral standing at the bottom step of the stairwell.
“The soul transfer spell?” Lee asked. Nelson shook his head.
“The spell she claimed to have cast on the pie, the one that turned us into frogs. She claimed she bespelled it to protect you. I think her intentions backfired. She ended up protecting you from her own soul transference spell. It backfired and the backlash carried over into the fact she was running out of time. The frame sucked both of them back in when they failed to live up to their end of the bargain.”
No one spoke for a long time, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally Lee broke the silence. “Admiral, she said she made a deal, for eternal life. Who with?”
Harry shook his head, and gave Lee's shoulder a quick squeeze. “Lee, I think somethings are better left unknown. Let’s go home, shall we?”
In one of the many rooms of the Ambassador's home, there is one room seldom visited by the owners. Over the years, guests have reported strange occurrences, objects moved about, odd cold spots, and most frightening, the voices of a man and a woman, arguing over some grievous long past.
The centerpiece of the room is an enormous painting, four feet tall and nearly two and a half feet wide, depicting a young, dark haired woman and an older, distinguished gentlemen. A plaque below the painting reads “Ambassador Montgomery James Kelly Jacobson and wife Eleanora Elaina Maria Jacobson.