Thursday, December 12, 2019
By Randy Romero
Roiling waves crashed along the shore like claps of thunder. The sky was a dark canopy riddled with stars, and the moon was barely visible. It was a chilly night and the ocean made it feel ten degrees colder. They were all bundled up, wearing hats and jackets. And the bonfire kept them warm; the alcohol kept them warmer.
This wasn’t exactly how Shirley Bellinger envisioned spending her Halloween. But sitting around a bonfire and drinking beers sure beat those run of the mill costume parties.
The group was small. There was Dylan Sommers, Shirley’s main reason for being there. Joe Cobb, who had supplied most of the booze. Three cases of imported beer from Belgium.
Joe’s girlfriend, Tanya Burke, was with him. Shirley knew her from school but they weren’t exactly best friends. They got along okay, but Shirley didn’t know her well enough to call her a friend. More of a mutual acquaintance.
Dan Carruthers, the school weirdo was also present. Shirley couldn’t understand why Dylan or the others hung around with him. But he did have primo weed, and he wasn’t afraid to share. Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind his company.
Then there was Gil Gerrard and Nicole Stevens. Shirley didn’t mind Nicole, but she never liked Gil. His family was rich and he wasn’t shy about telling you. His pompous attitude made him one of the more detested kids at their school. And Shirley could tell Nicole was only interested in him for money and social status.
They sat on the beach, drinking ice cold beers, with Dan rolling joints and passing them around. Joe and Dylan had a competition going to see who could drink the most beers. Gil bragged about his red sports car, and hung his arm around Nicole like she was a trophy of some kind. Just as Nicole used Gil for his family’s status, Gil used Nicole for her good looks. Even Shirley couldn’t argue that she was one of the prettiest girls in their school.
“Maybe we should sing a song?” Gil joked. “Maybe Kumbaya?”
“I’d sing one if I had my guitar,” Joe said.
“How about a story?” Tanya suggested. “It is Halloween after all.”
“What, like a scary story?” Dylan asked. “Like that urban legend about the guy with a hook for a hand?”
“Ugh, no. That story has been done to death.”
“I’ve got a story,” Dan chimed in.
“Go on,” Gil said. “I’ve gotta hear this one.”
“It happened right here in Brightwater. The Susie Q was a fishing vessel that sank over 25 years ago, before any of us were born. I remember my dad telling me about it as a kid. Nobody really knows how or why it sank. But it went down like a stone and they were trapped at the bottom of the ocean floor, their lungs filling up with salt water. They say it’s pitch black down there. The whole crew, all eight of them were lost. No survivors.
Rumor was that a rival fishing boat was responsible for sabotaging the Susie Q, but nobody could ever prove anything. But that’s not the scary part. For years after the Susie Q sank, people claimed to see the dead fisherman right here along the shore. They claimed they’d walk up right out of the ocean. Usually around this time of the year.”
“Why this time of the year?” Tanya asked.
He waited for some sign of understanding, but got none. “You guys don’t know much about Halloween, do you? You probably think nothing of Halloween outside of kids dressing up in costumes to beg strangers for candy. Halloween used to be called Samhain. In the Druid tradition, it was a festival, a celebration of the dead. And it was the time of year where the barriers between the dead and the living were at their thinnest. And believe what you want to believe about that, but it’s a fact that the Susie Q sank out there 25 years ago. And don’t forget how many people claimed to see those dead fishermen right here on the shore. If we were to see them, this would be the night.”
“Bullshit,” Gil muttered as he pretended to cough.
Dylan chuckled but Shirley wasn’t so amused.
“I remember my parents telling me about the Susie Q,” Joe said.
“Mine too,” Nicole said.
“Yeah, I remember hearing about it. But those sightings were just ghost stories, urban legends. Nobody ever saw any dead fishermen out here. Our parents used to tell us that just to scare us.”
The waves crashed like thunder, and with it, they came. Eight skeletal beings walking out of the sea. Covered in barnacles and tangled in slimy seaweed. Their flesh corroded away. And what little flesh remained was dark blue.
Shirley grabbed Dylan’s hand and Dylan squeezed back.
Dan had a sudden epiphany. It wasn’t just a story his father had told him. It was a confession. Dan’s father had been the captain of the Barbara Ann. He had made his living with that boat. But Dan wasn’t the only one guilty by association.
Joe, Dylan, Tanya, Nicole, and Shirley–all of their dads were local fishermen, and all of them worked on the Barbara Ann around the time that the Susie Q mysteriously sank. Even Gil’s uncle had worked as a mate on Dan’s father’s boat. They were all linked to someone directly responsible for the deaths of eight men.
And now, those men had returned. They lurched forward, making their way up the beach, gaffs and rusty fillet knives in their hands.
The tide came in, extinguishing the bonfire and plunging them into darkness. Their screams, as long as they lasted, carried across the empty beach. There wasn’t a soul around to hear their desperate cries. They wouldn’t be discovered until the next morning. And no trace of the eight fisherman remained. The ghosts of the sea had returned to the ocean they had perished in.