This story take place in Lee and Chip’s first year at Annapolis. With Halloween in mind, I give you…

Spirits of the Night

Sharon H.

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The hand was pale white, the color of something never exposed to the sun, something that shunned the light of day and continued its existence in the darkness that prevailed after the sun relinquished its hold to the night.

The full moon streaming through the open window was the only light illuminating the room. The bulb in the night light must have blown out sometime earlier, leaving only the silvery glow of the cold night orb to shine on the disembodied hand that hung over the bed.

The little boy stared at the hand, at the long ghostly fingers that seemed to reach for him. It looked like something bloodless and dead. If it was attached to a body, the little boy could not see it. It was as if the body was hiding under the bed, the unnaturally long arm reaching over the mattress, seeking something. The little boy couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move, couldn’t blink. All he could do was stare, watching helplessly as the hand drew closer, growing larger, the fingers growing longer. They began to morph from fingers and a hand to something skeletal. Something…undead…

With a jolt and a strangled cry, Lee Crane sat up, clutching the blankets, his chest heaving as he clawed for air. The wisps of the nightmare were fading but the memory would always be with him. His room was dark now but he could hear his roommate moving around.

“Lee? You okay?” Chip Morton’s voice carried just loud enough for Lee to hear over the pounding of his own heart. Even though he knew Chip couldn’t see him very well, Lee nodded, running a hand through sweat-dampened curls. When Lee didn’t answer right away, Chip persisted. “Lee?” he called out again, a little louder.

“I’m fine,” Lee replied automatically.

“What is that, your tag line? You say that to everything,” Chip commented.

“Really, I’m fine. Go back to sleep,” Lee said, wincing at how it sounded like an order. Apparently Chip heard the tone but the blond just snorted.

“You might outrank me some day but not right now. A plebe doesn’t outrank another plebe,” Morton said.

Lee returned a snort of his own. “Sorry.”

“Bad dream? You seem to have a few of them,” Chip observed. Lee heard him moving, sitting up in bed perhaps.

The brunet didn’t answer immediately. After getting stuck with Morton as a roommate his first year at Annapolis, Lee was getting a crash course in what it must be like to have an older brother. Even though Chip was turning out to be the best friend Lee had ever had, he wasn’t sure he could tell Chip about the things he’d seen as a boy. Morton might think he was crazy and start blabbing to everyone about his fruity roommate. Lee knew he wasn’t crazy. The old house his parents had bought when he was seven held more than just the living, even if he could never get his parents to believe him.

Lee made a decision. “Bad dream, nightmare, whatever you want to call it,” he began.

“Tell me about it,” Chip urged, his deeper voice soothing in the darkness.

Lee took a breath. He hoped he wasn’t making a mistake. Something, his gut, instinct, something intangible, was encouraging Lee to reach out to the blond. Lee went with his instinct and slowly began to speak. “When I was seven, we moved into this old house, dating to the 1600s. It sat on the end of the street and we had very few neighbors. That house scared the crap out of me from the minute I stepped in it.”

In the darkness Lee could hear Chip’s breathing, almost hear a heartbeat, but Lee wasn’t sure if it was Morton’s or the echo of his own. “Go on,” Chip urged and Lee felt for his father’s ring that he wore on his left hand, the same hand his father had worn it on. Touching the cool black stone always seemed to draw Lee closer to his father, dead for the last four years. “My bedroom was upstairs. It was a good sized room, with this huge closet with these big sliding double doors. The rod to hang my clothes ran the entire length of the closet but I only used the space on the left side of the closet. The right side of the closet was creepy for some reason. I wouldn’t even leave my toys on that side.”

“The room had two windows. Since my room was a corner room, there was a window on two sides of the room. I remember Mom put blue curtains up, and we painted the room blue, like the sea,” Lee said.

Chip chuckled. “You, liking the sea? I would never have thought it,” he teased.  

Lee grinned to himself as he continued his narrative. “Things were fine during the day. It was at night that things got bad.”

“How so?”

“A few weeks after we moved in I started to hear tapping on the walls, outside. I told Mom and she said it must be trees, that their branches must be hitting the house. The next time I heard it, I got up to look. My room looked over the back yard and none of the trees touched the house. They couldn’t be tapping on the walls.”

“Not very reassuring to a seven-year-old,” Chip observed.

“No, it wasn’t. Gradually the tapping turned into knocking and clawing and moved inside. Inside the closet. The only thing that kept the sounds at bay was to sleep with the lights on. Mom got me a nightlight and I slept with that for years until we moved.”

“But it didn’t go away?” Morton surmised.

Lee again shook his head. Even the memory of that house was enough to make him break out in a cold sweat. In the chill of the room, he shivered and pulled the blankets up around his shoulders, feeling himself trembling. “No. It didn’t go away. Sometimes the nightlight bulb would burn out. I’d wake up in the dark and the closet door would be open.”

“Okay, now you’re starting to creep me out,” the blond moaned.

“Image being seven years old. The first time I saw the closet door opened, I got up and closed it. Then the knocking and scratching would start up again. I could see the door shake as whatever was on the other side tried to claw its way out. I’d turn a light on and the sounds would stop.”

“You’re scaring the crap out of me now,” Chip complained and Lee could hear him moving again, the bed creaking as Morton shifted his weight.

“Sorry. But it gets better,” Lee promised.

“Oh jolly.”

“I woke up once and the nightlight had blown out again. The closet door was opened and there were two red eyes staring at me.”

“From in the closet?” Chip squeaked.

“From in the closet,” Lee confirmed. “This time I was terrified. I couldn’t reach the lamp without getting up so I stayed in bed and pulled the blankets over my head. I stayed that way until morning.”

“Smart move. I won’t argue with that tactic.”

“One night it happened again. The nightlight went out, the closet door was opened, but the eyes were gone this time,” Lee said.

Chip snorted. “Thank goodness.”

“But there was an arm, hanging over my bed. Like the body was on the other side of the bed, below the edge of the mattress. I can still remember how it didn’t look like something that was alive. It looked like the arm of a corpse.”

“Creepy,” Chip breathed in the darkness.

“Copy that. But the really creepy part was when it started to move.”

“My butt would have been out of there,” Chip shuddered.

“Well I was terrified. I couldn’t move. I just laid there as it got closer and closer. It began to change, looking less like a hand and more like a skeleton until it was a boney arm.”

“What did you do? ‘Cause I’m thinking it’s time to find a new bedroom,” Chip intoned ominously.

Lee ran a hand through his curls again, still damp. He took a deep breath, working around the memory of a seven-year-old boy, clouded by fear and time. “I pulled the covers over my head and rolled over, covering my head with the pillow. I shook like a leaf for the rest of the night but I didn’t move.”

“Did you at least tell your parents?” Morton asked.

“I did but they didn’t believe me. Dad was gone most of the time and Mom was busy with her job. My aunt Mary, Dad’s sister, used to stay with us if Dad was gone and Mom would be out late. I got to where I wouldn’t sleep in my room. As soon as my aunt would tuck me in, I’d take my blankets and pillow and my stuffed shark and I’d go sleep in the room Mom used as an office.

“You had a stuffed shark?” Chip asked incredulously.

Lee rolled his eyes in the darkness. “I was seven. I’ll bet you had a stuffed toy when you were a kid.”

“Since you’re coming home with me for Christmas, you’d find out anyway. I had a dinosaur. A blue T-Rex. I still have it, stuck in a box in a closet. You still have the shark?”

Lee felt himself grinning. “In storage, in the attic. And he was green.”

“Brotherhood of the Stuffed Animal,” Chip said with a chuckle. “So what happened with the spooky room?”

Lee settled back against the wall at the head of the bed. “I got to where I wouldn’t sleep there. I slept on the couch in the living room, in the floor of Mom’s office. In the hallway. But I wouldn’t sleep in my rom.. One weekend Mom and Dad switched out my room and her office. When I was nine, we moved again, to a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood. But I still had nightmares, up until I was ten or eleven. Mom would find me, panicky and crying, and I couldn’t explain what had scared the crap out of me.”

“So now you’re eighteen and having that dream again?”

Lee sighed. “I thought I had outgrown it,” he said softly.

“Maybe it was all that talk about John Paul Jones. They say the chapel is haunted[1],” Chip explained.

“Yeah. I heard. Maybe you’re right. Firsties seem to think that stuff is funny,” the younger man admitted. “That’s not the only time that’s happened though.”

“You’re kidding?”

Lee shrugged. “Nope. My grandmother, on my dad’s side, she lived in Virginia. The house is over two hundred years old. There is the civil war soldier who plays the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on a harmonica on the back step[2]. I’ve seen him twice, both late in the evening, sitting on the back steps. My grandmother says it’s some ancestor of mine, who lost his leg in the war. Come to find out, there was a distant uncle who fought in the Union Army and lost his leg at Gettysburg. He died in the house.”

“Remind me not to spend Halloween with you,” Chip warned. 

Lee wasn’t quite done. For some reason he felt compelled to tell Chip this one more story, a tale he’d never shared with anyone before.  “When I was twelve years old I spend the summer at my aunt Rhonda’s, who’s my Mom’s younger sister, and her three kids. Late one night I woke up to the sound of hoof beats on the road. I couldn’t figure who’d be riding that late at night, so I got out of bed and looked out the window. I saw a man, bent over the back of a lathered horse, riding hard up the road. The creepy part was that I could see right through both horse and rider and he wasn’t dressed like anybody from today. He looked like something from colonial times. My aunt later explained that local legend said Paul Revere road through that region on his famous midnight ride[3].”

“Okay,” Chip broke in. “That’s enough for tonight. You wanna share more ghost stories, let’s do it in the light of day, alright? Let me tell you, Chicago isn’t without its ghosts. When it’s daylight I’ll tell you about what I saw one night on my way home from prom. The school rented out the Willowbrook Ballroom and to get home, I had to drive past Resurrection Cemetery[4].”

“I’d just as soon not talk about cemeteries right now,” Lee replied.

“Humph. Me neither. I think if you can get though the next few years, your chance of running into any ghosts have got to be slim to none. You still set on submarine duty?”

“Is there salt in the sea?” Lee queried as he settled back down in the bed. He heard Chip doing the same.

“Well, I’ve never heard of a haunted submarine. Air craft carriers, maybe a destroyer but no submarines. You can leave your ghosts in the past and on land,” Chip said.

“Sounds like a good idea. Let’s get some sleep. It will be time to get up all too soon.”

Lee heard Chip’s yawn and the room settled into a peaceful quiet. It felt good, telling Chip that story. Morton acted like he believed him and didn’t think he was a few cards short of a full deck.

One thing Chip—and the Firsties--was right about: The chapel was haunted. He’d been down there just yesterday, after his last class. The chapel had been empty and as he was reading the names of the ships Jones had commanded in his life time that had been engraved on the bronze sarcophagus—a list he knew by heart— when he heard footsteps. Whirling around, Lee saw no one. “What’s your name, sailor?” The soft oddly accented voice drifted through the chapel and there was not one living soul in sight. Trying not to run, Crane had made his exit as quickly as possible. Lee wasn’t sure what Chip would make of that story and decided to keep that on under wraps for now.

Stifling his own yawn, Lee snuggled into the warmth of the blankets, hoping that his roommate was right. Maybe once he graduated, the ghosts that seemed to follow him would at least leave him alone.

 

End

Srh

 

 

 

 

 



[1] The ghost of John Paul Jones is said to hunt the chapel at Annapolis. His spirit is said to ask lone visitors ‘what’s your name, sailor?’

[2] Based on a real incident that happened while visiting a very good friend of mine. I’ve heard the music but I didn’t see the actual apparition. Hearing the music was quite enough.

[3] Based on a story told to me by another very good friend who swears the incident happened.

[4] One of the many stories of Resurrection Mary is that she was a girl walking home from the Willowbrook Ballroom one night and was hit by a car or somehow otherwise killed. Her ghost is said to still walk to and from the ballroom and it’s been recorded that she’s hitched a ride with many an unsuspecting driver. She asks to be taken to either the Willowbrook or the gates of the Resurrection Cemetery outside of Chicago only to vanish before they arrive