Carol FossAuthor's note: It's best to have seen 'Haunted Submarine' to understand some of this story.
"Yes, Chip," Harriman Nelson leaned back in one of the recliners in Seaview's observation nose, "it's good to be on our way home.It's been rather dull, this topographical mission. When should Lee get back from his dive? I had to make him do something to keep him happy."
"About another 20 minutes or so...the problem with Lee is that he lives on adrenaline."
"Well, at least we've had a cruise where absolutely nothing went wrong."
It was tempting to ask the Admiral if he wanted any more specimens of the rather plain sea life in the area, but Lee thought better of it especially as the net bag he and Kowalski were towing was beginning to tear. Suddenly something caught his eye."Ski, over there.
...Looks like a bottle of some kind..." he grabbed the half hidden and barnacle encrusted rum bottle.
"Holy cow!" Ski exclaimed as a skeleton's hand emerged from the silt, maintaining it's own grip on the spirits.
"Well?" Lee asked, as he dripped on the mat by the escape hatch. The skeleton or what was left of it lay on a stretcher while Nelson examined the stoneware bottle.
"Could be rum. May take awhile to remove all the calcifications and barnacles to be sure. Who knows, might even be the family lable,"he laughed.
"There was nothing to indicate any wreckage nearby," Crane removed his air tanks,"just it, and a couple of old metal buttons,"he fingered the one in his hand. "We could give the area a special ground sweep and..."
"Admiral?" Kowalski, now minus his own tanks asked, "excuse me, well, I was wondering, is it still okay to drink? "
Crane turned to Nelson inquiringly.
"I honestly don't think so. As for our guest, " Nelson indicated the remains, "I'm no expert but I think judging from the buttons, it's probably a few hundred years old."
"The Admiral and Doc are busy examining the bones," Chip joined Lee in the observation nose. "The Admiral said you could do the honors with this," he sat the bottle on the table and handed Lee a scraper.
"Hard to believe that somebody actually handled it all those years ago..."Lee held the object. "I wish I didn't feel like I'm robbing a grave,"Lee scraped away at the encrustations around the rim, and after a while managed to pry away the stopper.
"There's nothing in it," Morton said, dejected as Lee held it upside down.
"Wait, yes there is..."Crane shook the bottle and a small roll of leather showed, blocking the lip. He carefully pulled it out from its prison.
"What is it?" Morton asked.
"I don't know but I think it's some kind of book."
Crane smoothed out the leather and it's yellowed pages. "Amazing that it was tight and dry all these years...some sort of diary....."
My diary of his journy ab'd Sea Nymph thys trip
Nobody better steal it or I'l have yer hide.
Same old growls from the Captain. He says a good profit this tyme out. I herd that afor and it were never true, at least for a swab like me. I only know I gets food and grog and a wench or two when we hit port. Good enough life.
Snotface upchuckin' all over the place, you 'd think he'd never been to sea before instead of fourth officer. Crew grumblin' about having a gypsy aboard. Capn' says he's no gypsy, just looks like one.
Snotface had the conn last night and kept quotin' Shakespeare or some egghead stuff, all about love and twaddle that don't make no sense. Lad's goodly educated or horny.
Land ho. We got to go a wenchin while the Capt. went to meet with the holders. Tomorrow we load the cargo.
Put to sea after small delay. But I can't sleep none. Wails from all the cargo chained below. The capt. seems real intrested in one of em. Has her in his cabin right now, the old goat.
Storms again. One of em bad. Blew a couple of the crew over. Recovered Maxwell, but he was et up so bad, Capt. made us throw him back over to let the sharks finish him off quick like.
I had the duty in the cargo hold to feed em. Had to hold my breath from all the vomit and crap and pee. Lots have bloody ankles and wrists from the chains. Some of em almost dead. Most of em already had bloody backs from the handlers who caught and herded em to port. None of em speak English, the heathens.
Snotface punished with no water for two days for givin extra gruel to the cargo.
Snotface argued with the Captain again. Mighty row it were about the cargo and our 'devil's errand'. Cap'n struck him mighty hard in the face, then had him stripped naked and flogged for downright insubordination. Still roped to the mast, arms stretched way up high above him, mighty painful even without the cat, no water.
Wind freshened. Snotface still at punishment. Capt' taunted him about peeing on the deck again, No poop today though. Still no water. Crew beginin' to wonder if this is more than a punishment, as Capt' seems pleased to keep him strung up topside instead of below in irons.
Captain found a letter from Snotface to his wife. Captain says it's outright mutiny and ordered him keelhauled. Afore he died from his guts bein' torn open and spilling out all over the place, Snotface put a curse on the Capt. that he'll never rest in peace, stuff like that. Crew on edge, especially as he were a gypsy and their curses stick. But he were a good enough lad for an officer. Writes kinda fancy. God have mercy.
A yellowed creased letter fell away from the diary....
I have no doubt I'll Captain my own ship one-day, but I'll be leaving Sea Nymph as soon as possible/
The skipper is bad enough, I can handle that. You don't have to like a Captain to respect skill. It's the secondary business Sea Nymph has.
I know your father said any kind of additional cargo runs that she took on would be profitable, and to put the thought behind me but I can't. Not when the 'cargo' breathes, and bleeds, just like anyone else. I can't sleep. I can't even help feeling we're all doomed. Doomed for our part in this; poor wretched souls stolen from their homes and families and treated this way.
There is nothing I can do to atone for my part in this. I should have followed my instincts and stayed in the Navy, instead of the quick fix as fourth officer this venture promised. I know money is hard up right now, but dear God, not like this.
I know your father will be furious that I won't be bringing in the income we need, but I promise I'll keep you all provided for, if not in comfort, at least not in poverty.
Tell Timothy that his father thinks of him every day. I know he's hungry. I know you are. But none of you are starving, naked, whipped nor chained.
Honor is more important than going hungry for a bit. Leaving Sea Nymph is something I have to do.
Porpoise's seem to be following us again. Seeing them helps somehow.
We'll be offloading those poor souls soon, so I'll be leaving the ship then, before Sea Nymph returns to Boston with her 'legitimate' cargo of tea and spices. I cannot bear to remain aboard her a moment longer, even to return to Boston minus the slaves.
The Captain is bound to withhold some or even all of my pay or even demand reimbursement as I am breaking my contract, but this is something I must do. I cannot be a hypocrite as he is, Nor do I think you would want me to be on this devil's errand.
God willing, I'll have secured a new position or rejoined the Navy by the time you get this letter and will send for you as soon as possible wherever I find myself. Please don't be angry with me.
I know Balthazar is a family forename, but one of the slave holders is a Balthazar and I just can't stand being associated with the name, so I don't intend to use it ever again.
Abby, dearest love, promise me you'll not hate me. Your father is sure to regard my action as a betrayal. But we all have to stand before the Almighty one day.
I cherish you above my life, but I must do this.
I long to hold you, kiss you, and to make love to you. God willing, seeing you again won't be delayed overmuch.
Yours for all time and then some,
Balthazar I'll have to figure out some other name, but haven't thought of one yet.
The men were silent for a moment and Crane gently ran his hand over the letter.
"Chip, see if anyone has any information of this Sea Nymph...Is it chilly in here?"
"No, perhaps you were out too long."
"It's no cilll..I'll check temperature controls...is that all there's to the diary? "
"Yes, just seems to have stopped..."
It was pitch black in Crane's cabin. The smell made him want to vomit. Lee groped along the damp curved and wooden hull, but was suddenly grabbed and dragged to the deck by man in an officer's uniform assisted by a greasy sailor with a lantern.
"Where'd you think you're off to?" the officer demanded.
"I...I don't know...who are you? Where is this place? How did I get here?"
The officer snorted.
A woman's scream interrupted them. It was followed by another man's maniacal laughter.
Lee awoke with a gasp. Oh god, what a horrible dream. Glad to be rid of it, he quickly pulled himself together for another boring day.
"You okay Lee?" Doc asked as the two looked at the skeleton on the sickbay gurney.
"I'm fine, just had a really weird dream, kind of sickening....well? " Lee asked, as he lifted one of the fingers of the remains.
"Hard to determine it's age without a complete forensic test,"Doc replied, "but I'd say that it's definitely an adult male, late middle age or early senior years. It has a rehealed broken finger. The little one you're holding."
Crane dropped it like a rock.
"It's not going to bite you know."
" I...it's just...kind of sobering. I mean...he was a living breathing person once. And now.."Crane shuddered, suddenly envisioning his men as reduced to the boney frame as this. "It comes to us all sooner or later, "he said softly.
"Indeed it do, lad, indeed it do," a mocking voice said.
"What's that skipper?" Doc asked absently as he placed some scrapings he'd made of a small bone onto a tray.
"I may be able to find out more from these fragments, medical conditions it may have had. With a more complete forensic exam we might even get to see what he looked like. Computer imaging and all of that...Any luck on the paper trail?"
"Nobody's ever heard of Sea Nymph...it's like she never existed."
"Hardly surprising. Any written records could have been destroyed by fire, theft, or simply lost...or maybe stored in somebody's attic."
"I just wish we could know more."
Crane toured the boat after an early breakfast. He could hear laughter and was glad the men were in a good mood.Then he heard the sound of something hitting flesh. Perhaps they were in too good a mood and had come to fisticuffs over something. He'd have to put a stop to it. More laughter. And a stifled scream of pain. Another crack of the barbed and many tailed whip tearing flesh. Another scream. Lee vomited.
"Skipper? Skipper?"Sharkey ran to and helped the Captain from his huddled position on the deck."C'mon let's get you to sickbay."
"I'm okay...I'm fi..." what Lee was going to tell Sharkey was interrupted by another bout of vomiting.
"Well?" Nelson asked in sickbay.
"I've checked and double checked," Doc replied, " it's no bug I can determine. And it's not food poisoning...."
Lee was racked with a parosxm of more vomiting, as he held a bucket on the sickbay bunk with him.
"So what can you do?"Nelson asked.
"Treat the symptoms, that's all I can do."
"Puking all over my first mate first day out," the haughty voice was irritated, "Shameful, laddie, shameful! Fourth officer indeed! Hah! No, don't be giving me your list of service, I'm not interested. But hear this, I already rue the day you signed on Sea Nymph. Better I should toss you overboard for fish food than keep ye!"
"Skipper, skipper?"Frank's voice was concerned. "Doc? He's getting worse."
It was brutal, but Nelson knew Doc was right about him being in the way, and he returned to his cabin. Running a hand through his hair in frustration about Lee's condition, a knock on the door interrupted his musings."In."
"Admrial?" Chip entered, concerned. "It's all over the boat, Lee?"
"He's in a bad way Chip... he's mumbling and making no kind of sense...doesn't even notice us. No recognition at all. Chip, you'd better put Seaview on quarantine status, just in case."
Doc was growing even more concerned. While there was nothing left in Crane's stomach, he still twisted in agony of dry heaves. None of the stomach medications had lessened the severity. Maybe it was a new kind of bug that he was unfamiliar with, but no one else had come down with anything. It almost seemed obscene that he could hear some laughter from the crew's quarter's television while his patient was in such distress.
Crane heaved again, as the sound of laughter mingled with the smell of a charcoal fire, and the sizzle of branding irons on bare flesh.
The officer rubbed his thumb over the brass button absently. It had been lovingly sewn on, and the second hand uniform was brushed by a soft hand. Her face looked into his, with a blush from the night before.
"Promise me," she said.
"I'll come home again, I promise,"he said, "it's not like the Sea Nymph's a naval fighting ship, just a cargo hauler."
"Nothing, absolutely nothing." Doc mused slide after slide, " he said exhausted and discouraged.
Morton saw that Lee was incoherent, almost wild as the corpsman tried vainly to quiet him.
"Lee?"Morton prodded, "Lee? Can you hear me?"
In Nelson's cabin, the Admiral buried his head in his hands as he heard Crane's screams, agonizing screams. And nobody could do anything.
God knew he hadn't wanted to cry out. But as the barbed and many-tailed whip tore into his naked flesh again and again, it was impossible. He hadn't' wanted to give the Captain the satisfaction, and his screams had made the man laugh.
"Keep him lashed to the mast. No water. "
It was harder to breathe than the day's before. His throat was raw. The urine that trailed down his legs burned against his bare and sunburnt skin.
"How dare you pee again all over my nice clean deck!"
"What's the matter laddie, cat got your tongue? Ha! Cat!" the Captain held the cat- o- nine- tails in his hand, "fine thing it is for discipline as you're well aware now."
"Discipline! You're a sadist! A bastard! A..."
"I get the idea, lad,now...I have here a certain letter, a fine letter too it is indeed," the Captain oozed sentiment and waved it in his face, suddenly furious." How dare you! How dare you call me a hypocrite!How dare you question a legitimate business! Mutiny, that's what it is, Mutiny!"
"There has to be an answer!"Nelson pounded his desk with his fist, "There's got to be! But the blood samples we flew to the states confirm there's nothing wrong with him, but damnit, what the hell is it? And there' nothing we can do! Chip...you'd better contact his mother."
"This is not the end of it Captain, beware, you 're doomed, "he said as the ropes were made fast.
"Put him over the stern. " The Captain absently rubbed the button of the prisoner's uniform. It was second-hand, but it was good fabric. Might even wear it himself. He took a swig of rum while he waited for the keelhauling to begin.
With a deep breath the victim was plunged into the sea. His wounds burnt by the salt it was nothing compared to being dragged under Sea Nymph's barnacle encrusted keel. Senses almost giving way from the pain of his flesh being ripped away, he was suddenly gasping air as he was raised up at the bow and laid on deck.
"Well, well, well, I see you survived. Though how long is anyone's guess, your guts are spilling out all over my deck making a mess. Any last words, you'd better make them now, lad."
"May you... be cursed to.... wander between this life and... the next until you find someone ...of your own.... blood to... take... your... place in... perdition!"
"You think you can scare me with your gypsy curse, that I'll shiver with nerves and cower because all hands know I have no offspring? Hah! God have mercy on your soul. You, boson's mate, over here," he grabbed the man's small leather notebook and pencil from his hands," Have you no shame? I've told you before,scribble again during punishment witness and I'll keep it. Here,"he gave it back,"you've been warned."
"Murder," the prisoner gasped his last, "write it down...."
"He's dead Captain," the barber surgeon confirmed.
"Toss him over, then clean the deck."
"Doc!" Frank yelled, "he's stopped breathing!"
With speed and precision a respirator was inserted into Crane's trachea. At least his heart was still beating. Crane was still, his eyes open staring up at the ceiling, unseeing as the respirator breathed for him.
"Damn it Lee! Wake up!" Doc shouted, angry, upset, and terrified for him.
"I know we gotta keep working," Ski said as he tried to eat, his appetite gone, " but...I can't concentrate on anything... the skipper's not gonna make it this time, is he chief."
"Don't look like it," Sharkey wiped his fingers on his uniform. "God, it don't look like it.... Damn buttons too, been packing up that skeleton and the buttons, I got green fingers, can't seem to wash it off. Looks kinda like mold or something on that old brass."
"Yeah, the skipper got some on his hands too and...holy cow! Look chief, I gotta run!"
"Why didn't you say anything!" Nelson roared.
"I ...I guess I didn't think it was important at the time...is it sir? I'm groping at straws here."
"I'm sorry Ski, I didn't mean to yell..yes, it's a good idea. I'll be in the lab, tell Doc we may have an answer, God I hope so."
The boy's single tear rolled down his face, as his mother solemnly lit another candle in the window.
"It's no good, Abby," her father said, running his hand through the dark hair of his grandson," another prayer for Balthazar's soul won't bring him back."
"I know that. This is not a prayer. I just want him to know that....that..."she began to cry.
"This weeping and wailing has gone on long enough. And you have to admit the Captain's been more than generous considering."
"Generous? He had my husband tortured, then keelhauled! Murdered! And dumped at sea as if he were nothing but a piece of...of...garbage!"
"It was his duty to punish Balthazar. Insubordination and Mutiny are serious business."
"Mutiny? You can't believe that!"
"It was sworn to by the entire crew."
"Probably paid them, " she said bitterly.
"Abby,"the elder man put his arm around her,"you don't know that. And even you know Balthazar could be...well...impulsive. But he knew the rules of the sea. It's his fault alone you're left a widow and destitute, not the Captain's."
"Some rules are meant to be broken. And if you're so sympathetic with the Captain's 'duty' to keelhaul the finest man ever born on the earth, then you can keep the good Captain's stipend he promised us 'in spite of things' for I'll not touch a penny of it!"
"And what will you live on? You know damn well we depended on Balthazar's income. I hope he rots in hell for putting you through this!"
"Don't you ever say that again!!"
"I..I'm sorry, you know how I feel, perhaps I was a little harsh. Come now, we have some more letters of condolence to acknowledge."
A cold draft swept by as the adults retired to a simple desk in the rather spartan room. The child's black eyes followed them, then he pulled out a single brass button from his pocket and rubbed it through his fingers, all that was left to him of his father....
"Mold spores.." Doc examined the slide..."common but...wait...oh my god, how could I be so stupid...I hadn't even considered....and it's not the mold, it's Lee! He's allergic to this strain...he must have touched his eyes or mouth after handling them... "he hurried to the drug cabinet and withdrew a anti-allergen "I hope."
It was an odd dream. Of singing flowers and talking trees. Of laughter and contentment. There was utter peace here.
'Lee! Lee!" Nelson ordered.
"Hmmph?" Crane didn't want to wake up.
"Lee! Snap out of it!"
"Hmm? Oh, hi Admiral, "he yawned, and saw where he was. "Sickbay!"he tried to rise.
"Easy Skipper," Doc ordered, "lie still for awhile."
"You had an allergic reaction to a mold strain from the skeleton's buttons.... You've been out of it for a while..."Nelson ran a hand through his hair," scared us to death actually."
"Is he okay?" Ski asked from the crowded doorway.
"Come on in men," Doc answered, as he put away his stethescope,"he seems to be on the mend. It was Ski who found the clue to what was going on, I'll let him tell you all about it..."
"I still don't know..."Lee mused from his seat in the observation nose. Released from sickbay or not, he was still 'under observation'. "Those dreams I had, they were so real.And..."he stopped, his head bowed.
"And?" Nelson asked.
"You don't want to know."
"Lee...talk to me...what is it?"
"The Captain in my dreams, Sea Nymph's Captain....he...he..."
"He looked kind of like ...actually identical...to you. I know that's a terrible trick for my mind to play but..."
"He looked like me?'
"I didn't plan the dream, honest Admiral, I'm sorry, I..."
"Lee,"Nelson rose and poured himself a drink" I think you've just solved the mystery of the Sea Nymph," he took a gulp. "And I don't' think these were mere dreams. More like a paranormal experience. Don't laugh, you've had psychic visions before. Lee, the Captain of the Sea Nymph did have a son. Probably more than we know of if he indulged himself with his slaves like you think he did. He didn't know about his wife's son till he reached Boston... so perhaps this Balthazar did put the curse on him after all. No, listen to me, I do have to tell you about something bout my own uh, paranormal experience.. but for now let's just say the Captain of Sea Nymph was probably Captain Shamus O'Hara Nelson. One of my ancestors. Quite a resemblance. We never knew the name of his ship. Till now."
"Are you okay?"
"Are you okay, that Captain Nelson was a slaver?"
"We can't pick and choose our ancestors, Lee. At least I hope in my own way I've used the Nelson fortune for the good of mankind instead of against it.'
"So, " the director of the museum said, "If it hadn't been for your DNA test I'd say it was somebody's idea of a practical joke...this resemblance is amazing. What will you do with it, your skeleton?"
"That's up to Lee, after all he found it."
"Me? But....well, I guess we should bury him but..."
"Seems like a sacrilege to put him in hallowed ground..."
"Well, I may have an idea..."
"And so, " the TV reporter continued," the skeleton of Captain Shamus O'hara Nelson has been placed on permanent display at the African American Museum along with the diary of a crewman and a letter of a Balthazar 'Doe' to his wife. As you can see from the computerized imaging, and clay modeling from a cast from the skeleton, Captain Nelson has a almost identical appearance to his descendant the famous Admiral Harriman Nelson who has donated the finds. When asked what he felt about his infamous ancestor, the good Admiral said it was a kind of poetic justice that the bones now reside in a center for African American studies where his kind of infamy will be remembered as such and hopefully never arise again. In further news..."
"Well," Lee turned off the TV in the hotel suite, " at least that's taken care of...I still don't know why I dreamed all those things."
"I've been thinking of that, you said you saw Balthazar's wife sew one of the buttons on...perhaps there his memories. Lee, I'm absolutely convinced this was a supernatural experience...and you know all about mine now...how Shamus tried to get me to take his place..."
"I'm just glad to know how Sharkey got covered in all that foam," Crane laughed.
Deep in the dust of an old attic of a house long ago dilapidated and now home to rats and dustbunnies, and awaiting demolition lay a manifest. A ship's roster. Sea Nymph's roster.
There in the space for the fourth officer was a name. Balthazar. Balthazar Crane.
*In the episode The Haunted Submarine the ghost of Shamus O'Hara Nelson tries to get the Admiral to join him for the 'fun' of it, (the brawling, the life at sea, etc),but Nelson makes an inquiry to the maritime museum and discovers Shamus' past as a slaver and that it was all a ploy to get him to take his place.Prior to that, when Seaview and her crew underwent the weird phenomena of being frozen in time, Nelson saw a shadow and used a foam fire extinquisher on the 'shadow' which turned out to be Sharkey. Nelson doesn't explain either experience to anyone, not even to Crane.