It was half past noon, on the 21st of September, when Daniel Adams looked out the window and saw her.
At first he wasn’t sure what he was seeing. He rubbed his eyes. Blinked a few times. Cursed quietly because his eyeglasses were in the car and he hadn’t brought them inside.
He looked, squinting, willing his eyes to be better at seeing. Then, he was sure.
It was a woman. A beautiful woman. But there was one problem.
He could see through her.
It was just that plain. She was obviously, a ghost.
The winds were high at his rented vacation home. He had come there for two weeks for rest and recreation from his busy job as a contractor. It had been great. No loud or needy neighbors. No calls from work. Just silence, and peace and quiet. He felt more relaxed than he had in a long time.
He looked at the figure of the woman, until he was sure that he wasn’t hallucinating, and then stepped out on the porch. She was still there. And now, she was looking at him.
What was she saying? Her beautifully formed, rosebud mouth was making a pleading type of motion. Her eyes, which he imagined must be of the deepest blue, appeared filled with tears.
He walked down the porch steps, and with his eyes set on her, stepped onto the beach.
Two hands grabbed him from behind, threw him on the ground, knocking the air out of him. “Stop!!”
Daniel was a former boxing champion in the Marines, and had lost none of his ability to defend himself, even when taken by surprise. He was up in a minute, ready to swing.
But there was nothing to swing at. Well, sort of nothing. The figure before him was just as see-through as the irresistible woman still some distance away. Still beckoning him to come to her, assist her.
“You can’t help her.” The words didn’t seem to come from his mouth. They were everywhere, maybe not spoken, though he could clearly hear them. “Help yourself. This is a cursed place. Get in your car and get out of here!” The man before him became many men and women, looking as if they came from different times, all sure of one thing–Daniel was in danger.
Just then, a ravenous sound, chilling in its fury came from the direction of the lady. Daniel turned and froze. There was no beauty left. Only the craven ugliness of the tomb, a skeletal mass of decay, of evil and of desire to destroy. He took several steps back, lost his balance, fell. When he opened his eyes, he was alone.
Daniel got into his blue MG, and headed into town. He stopped at the first older-looking, somewhat seedy bar he could find. For an experience like he’d just had, a massive drunk was needed, sooner rather than later.
He was well towards accomplishing his goal when the bartender, who was old, weathered and the visual stereotype of the wise and cynical bar-keep shut him down. “You’re drinking those like you have a grudge against beer.” The older man said. His voice was accented with a Boston brogue, old school Irish, and something else. Raspy, but somehow–kind?
Daniel didn’t argue being cut off from the brews. He paid his tab, and started to go, thinking there were plenty of bay-side bars where he could complete the task he set before himself.
“You saw her, didn’t you?” The voice behind him, much like the view of the spectral woman, summoned him. And so, Daniel turned and went back to the bar-keep.
“Why don’t you people advertise this in your chamber of commerce site? You could make a heap of cash. Or is it better to let people find out on their own, and hope they don’t have a heart attack?.”
The bar-keep stepped out from behind the counter. He wiped his hands on a spotless white apron and pointed to a booth where he could still see the comings and goings of the customers. He scratched his two or three day growth of white-gray beard, and smiled a yellow-toothed smile. “I’ll tell you now.” He said, very casually, as if he planned to advise Daniel of the best places for fly fishing.
Daniel, unsteady on his feet and starting to feel a little nauseated, took a seat opposite the bar-keep. “There you go, O’ Boy.” The bartender said, grunting comfortably as the plush, but well used cushion met his backside. “Not much time to rest on this job.”
“Who are you?” Daniel asked.
“I’m Ray. You saw the sign. Ray’s Diner and Spirits. Not so great on the diner part, but pretty great on the spirits. Been here for a while.” He nodded at the bar. “We get folks like you all the time, and I try to lend a hand.”
“Well, Ray, I don’t believe in ghosts. So, either I’m hallucinating, or nuts, or maybe both.”
“Neither, O’ Boy. I’ve been here forever, it seems, and I am still not used to her. I don’t think anyone is.”
“Who…what is she?”
Ray stuck out his long legs, stretched them. Pushed ample straight locks of white hair out of his grey, ancient eyes. He seemed to consider the question.
“She is a sea spirit, but not a very nice one.”
“Okay, that’s one of her names. Just remember, you’re the one who asked me.” Ray got up, and brought back two ice cold beers. “I know I cut you off, but you might need a little more brew to believe me.”
They drank in silence for a few moments, and then Ray begun his tale.
“Her name was Penelope Stuart. The Stuarts were the foremost family here in the 1930s. Her Daddy, Paul Stuart had mob connections, and was nasty piece of work. He was the mayor, and he ran everything. Or so he thought. He didn’t run Penelope. She was just as strong willed as her father. She usually had him in the palm of her hand, able to get him to say yes to anything. But then Bryan O’Malley came along.”
Daniel, who loved a good story, almost as much as a good fight or a good drunk, knew he was hearing the beginning of one. He listened attentively.
“O’Malley was trash. Just plain trash. There wasn’t any other name for him. He was a poor kid, and a short, skinny one. He felt like he had to overcompensate for everything. He saw Penelope, rich daughter of a very rich and powerful man.”
“I don’t think he ever loved her. He just saw the money and the power. He wanted that, and didn’t figure, I guess, that having a beautiful wife would hurt that much. And, Penelope was beautiful–except, maybe in her heart, where all women need to be beautiful. Her only flaw outwardly was a crescent shaped scar in the middle of her forehead.”
Ray sipped deep on his beer, and then continued. “I was a kid when all this went down. Just about 9 years old. Too young to really understand all of it, but old enough to get the basic facts. The town was full of gossip. Especially when Penelope turned up pregnant and in need of a quick wedding. Old man Stuart was livid. He couldn’t see the sense in making O’Malley his son-in-law. He was too angry. He watched them make their plans, plans that they thought were secret, to run away. Penelope went to the beach, where at the time, a small wharf was. She waited. O’Malley never showed up.”
“Did her father kill him, or have him killed?” Daniel asked.
Ray raised his eyebrows in consideration. “No one knows, O’Boy. My thought, as was my Daddies’ was that Stuart had him made into fishbait. No one ever saw Bryan O’Malley again. Alive, that is.”
“Somehow, Penelope knew. She went to her father, they had a showdown. She cursed him, he cursed her. She left his house and went to the wharf where she and O’Malley planned to meet.”
Daniel had to say the words. “What happened next?”
“It was September 21, 1938. That date ring a bell to you?”
Daniel shook his head, then slowly nodded. “The Long Island Express came on shore that day.”
Ray grinned widely. “Good for you, O’Boy. I knew you wouldn’t let me down. Penelope and everyone else got no warning to leave the town. We were all just sitting ducks. When the hurricane got finished, there wasn’t nothing left in our area, not one living soul.”
“But you said you were 9 years old, and you lived there back then.”
Ray smiled, and Daniel wasn’t surprised to see straight through him. “I did say that, O’Boy.”
Outside, Daniel heard the wind pick up. He was a faithful Weather Channel watcher, but had heard nothing of a tropical storm headed up the Atlantic coast.
“She’s vicious, that girl.” Ray said. “And you are one lucky man.”
“Since that hurricane, every time she appears to someone, we either get a bad, deadly storm….or someone goes missing. We started calling her the ‘soul of the sea’ as a bad joke. The missing folks, usually men, who are bewitched by her beauty– every dad-burned one of them drown. We try to stop it, warn people. Even O’Malley tries.”
“Sometimes we manage to save a few. But she is hungry. For revenge, to bring others down. You’re safe, but we may be too late for someone else. If she doesn’t get her first prey, Penelope goes hunting for someone else.”
Just as quickly as the words were said, the whole place around him, including Ray was no more. Daniel saw bare beach. He saw boards, bodies, old style automobiles up-ended, in ruin. The surroundings changed again. He was near the place he thought he had rented. He saw his MG. But there was no house, no nothing. Except her.
Penelope, in front of him, face full of ravening hunger, reaching out to him.
“No!” The voice came from behind him.
Daniel turned, and saw a large group of people. Saw through them. One of them, tall, strongly built, determined, walked towards the sea spirit. “This must stop. No more, Penny, no more.”
“This man did nothing to you.” A woman, with a kind, plump face said, strongly.
“Daddy, Mama….I” The words were the first Penelope, the sea spirit, had uttered. For a moment, the ugliness on her spectral face seemed to lesson, but she looked over at Bryan O’Malley standing near them, and she appeared determined. “We didn’t get our chance, our life. If we can’t, no one can.”
Daniel, afraid, unsure of who he could trust, stared at Penelope, then at the townspeople.
Thunder flashed through the sky. All but Daniel vanished.
When Daniel woke the next day, he woke in a hospital. He had taken a bad fall, the nurse said. He had a concussion. Did he have anyone he wanted contacted? Daniel gave the name of his brother, Jordan and contact information.
Jordan was at his bedside by noon. But Daniel was not glad to see him.
Daniel was Jordan’s younger brother by two years, Daniel thought he knew him from head to foot. Yet, on Jordan’s forehead was a old scar, crescent shaped. He reached for his brother, and Daniel pulled away, head hurting, wanting to scream, but unable to.
The last thing Daniel saw was his brother’s features melt into those of Penelope as her skeletal arms latched onto him.
The soul of the sea, Penelope, was, for the time, now satisfied.