October 16, 2016
The car speeds down the highway. Pouring rain beats against the windows. A little boy sits quietly in the back seat. Suddenly, the car’s tires skid on the slick pavement and it spins out of control, heading for the metal railing along the side of the road – the only thing separating the highway from a steep, rocky ravine. The car breaks right through the railing, plummeting towards the jagged rocks below. The man and woman in the front seat are jerked forward so hard their seat belts snap and they are thrust towards the windshield. As their bodies strike the dashboard, the gruesome sound of bones breaking echoes throughout the car. “Mom! Dad!” the little boy cries. They do not answer. A scream bubbles up through his throat and spills out into the air. . .
Alex sat up in bed, shaking in fear, the scream still echoing in his ears. I hate that dream, Alex thought. The dream reoccurred every few nights, the memory of his parents’ death refusing to leave. Having been strapped into his car seat, the only injuries Alex received were a cut on his arm and a sprained ankle. Now, the faint scar on his forearm tingled and Alex reached over to touch it. Suddenly, his Grandmother’s voice called to him from the kitchen downstairs, telling him to come down for breakfast. Alex glanced at the clock beside his bed. Realizing he’d overslept he leapt out of bed. He rushed down to the kitchen, taking the steps two at a time.
“Good morning, Grandmother,” he said, sitting down at the table.
“Eat your toast,” she grumbled, setting a plate down in front of him. Alex looked at his grouchy grandmother with her face set in the usual scowl, unsurprised with her harsh tone. He had almost never seen her smile, even before the accident. After his parents died, she moved in to the house with him.
“Alex if you want to get to the bus stop on time, you better hurry,” his grandmother said impatiently.
He wolfed down the rest of his breakfast, grabbed his backpack, and rushed out the door. As he hurried down the street towards the bus stop, fallen leaves crunched under his feet. He stopped for a minute and looked up at the trees, their leaves bursting with color as if they were on fire. Suddenly from down the street he heard the screech of the bus’ brakes. Alex broke into a run and arrived just as the last passenger climbed on.
“Wait!” Alex called out as he rushed towards the bus.
Fortunately, the driver saw him and waited as he climbed onto the bus and flopped down into an empty seat, breathing hard. The bus doors closed and the driver started down the street in the direction of the school.
The day dragged by in a blur of worksheets, lectures, and homework assignments. Alex was more than relieved when it was finally over. As he was gathering his things at the end of class, his teacher said to the class, “Have fun tonight! And don’t forget to save me some candy!” Alex was confused. What’s happening tonight? He wondered. Then he remembered. Tonight was Halloween! He wouldn’t celebrate of course. He hadn’t been trick or treating since his parents died. Besides even if he had wanted to, he wouldn’t have been allowed to go. His grandmother never celebrated Halloween or any other holidays except his birthday. She spent Halloween in the house with the curtains drawn and the porch light turned off. She never came to the door or even left out a bowl of candy for the trick or treaters.
When Alex got off the bus after school, he decided to take the long way home – the street that went around the graveyard. He was not in any hurry to get back to the house, or his grandmother’s cold welcome. As he neared the graveyard he decided to stall getting home even longer by visiting his parents’ graves.
Alex noted that the weather this afternoon was much different from the morning’s warm sunshine. Now the sky was cold and gray, and the trees were shrouded in fog. As Alex entered the graveyard, the fog floated about the gravestones, shifting in a way that played tricks on his eyes, making strange shapes that seemed like the spirits of the people the gravestones marked.
Alex stumbled through the cemetery until he found his parents’ gravestones. As he knelt in front of them, he felt the prickling sensation he was being watched. Suddenly, he heard a twig snap from behind him. Alex jumped to his feet and whirled around. At first he couldn’t see anything, but then a bearded man dressed in a ship captain’s uniform emerged from the fog. He was holding an old fashioned kerosene lantern in one hand and when Alex looked at him, he realized the man looked familiar, but he couldn’t remember where he had seen him before. Then the man spoke.
“Hello, my boy.” His voice was deep and warm and seemed to come from everywhere.
“Who are you?” Alex asked. “I feel like I’ve seen you before.” The man laughed.
“All in good time, Alex,” he responded. “Now come with me. I have something to show you.” Before Alex could ask how the man knew his name, he had turned and started off into the mist.
Alex followed him as best as he could, for the man faded in and out of the fog as though he were part of it.
“Wait up, um . . .” the end of Alex’s sentence trailed off, for he was unsure what to call the strange man. The man chuckled and called over his shoulder, “Call me Captain Tory.”
The fog was beginning to thicken, and Captain Tory was becoming harder and harder to see. Alex followed him for what seemed like hours, even though he knew it was only a matter of minutes. Finally they stopped at an iron fence surrounding a large body of water. Alex immediately recognized where they were. They were at the large lake that was on the side of the graveyard opposite the entrance. He could see the lights of the town on the other side and even though he had looked across the lake many times before, now everything looked strange and unfamiliar. Everything was covered with fog like someone had taken the clouds from the sky and spread them over the earth.
Suddenly Alex noticed that the fog in the middle of the lake seemed different somehow. It moved in a strange, unnatural swirling pattern.
“What’s that?” Alex asked, pointing to the area. But the Captain simply said, “Watch.” Obediently, Alex turned and stared out over the water. At first nothing happened. Then, slowly at first so that Alex took a minute to notice it, the fog began to flicker. Then it started morphing into the shape of a ship. The ship was large and wooden and seemed very old. The name Lucky Lady was written in faded gold lettering on the side. It looked nothing like the sleek speedboats or large metal fishing boats Alex often saw slicing through the water. This ship was old fashioned like the ships in the old sailing movies Alex sometimes watched on television.
“Have you ever been sailing, Alex?” the Captain asked.
“No, Sir.” Alex said.
“Well then, what are we waiting for?”
“But Captain,” Alex protested. “How are we going to get to the boat? The dock is all the way across the lake.”
“Just trust me,” the Captain replied. “Now close your eyes.” Alex did as he was told. After a moment he felt the Captains strong hands grasp his waist and lift him up, and suddenly he was flying through the air! Alex opened his eyes and saw himself sail over the fence and through the fog towards the ship. All at once a startling realization came over him. He was hurtling towards the ship’s deck at terrifying speed. I’m going to crash! Alex thought. Alex squeezed his eyes shut, anticipating the impact. But after a moment he realized he felt the deck under his feet. He opened his eyes and saw that he was standing on the boat, and Captain Tory was next to him!
“How did you . . . ?” Alex began to ask, but once again the Captain cut him off.
“All hands on deck and get ready to sail,” he called. The door to the lower deck swung open and a crew of men as transparent as the Captain came hurrying out. They began readying the boat for sailing as Alex looked on with excitement.
After the boat had been readied, the Captain called out, “Lower the sails!”
“Yes, Sir!” the crew chorused in unison. There had been no breeze before, but now, a gust of wind filled the large white sails and the boat started to glide across the water, picking up speed as it went. Alex ran to the side of the boat and leaned out over the water, his smile a mile wide. The water sprayed his face with wet droplets and the wind blew his golden brown curls about his face. Alex felt as though he could stay on the boat forever, skimming over the lake on the Lucky Lady. After a few moments, the Captain joined him at the edge. “Amazing isn’t it?” He asked.
“Yes!” Alex agreed. “It’s the most fun I’ve had for a long time!”
After the ship had sailed a full circle around the lake, it came to a stop at the spot where it had first appeared.
“Well, my boy,” the Captain said. “It looks like the time has come to return to the graveyard.” Alex shut his eyes and once again was tossed over the fence. When he felt the grass under his feet he opened his eyes and looked at Captain Tory, who was standing next to him. The Captain didn’t speak he just turned and gazed out at the water. Alex did the same, and they stood side by side watching the ship slowly meld into the fog.
When it had gone, Captain Tory turned to look at Alex and said, “Come. Let’s go.” Alex followed him back through the graveyard until they reached his parent’s graves.
Alex looked up at the Captain. “I guess this is goodbye then.”
The Captain chuckled. “Oh don’t worry Alex, you’ll see me again.” A grin spread across Alex’s’ cheeks.
“I will?” He asked.
“Oh, yes.” Captain Tory replied. “This certainly isn’t the only time we’ll spend together.”
“Oh good,” Alex gushed. “I like spending time with you!” He looked at his feet, embarrassed by his show of emotion. The Captain chuckled and his laugh lingered for a moment. Alex looked up and realized he was alone. The Captain was gone, he had left the same way he had first appeared. Alex looked around the cemetery, Captain Tory’s laugh still echoing in his ears. Then he slowly turned and started walking out of the graveyard.
As Alex walked home, he contemplated what to tell his grandmother. It was well past the time he usually came home and the sun had set long ago. She would be furious. He turned the corner onto his street and walked towards his house. When he got to the front door he hesitated, then walked inside.
“Grandmother?” He called. “I’m home!” His grandmother came running out of the kitchen and enveloped him in a huge hug.
“Oh Alex!” She cried. “Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick! Ten more minutes and I would have called the police!”
“I’m sorry grandmother.” Alex replied. “I was visiting Mom and Dad’s graves and I was so tired from my day at school, I fell asleep.” Alex had decided not to tell his grandmother about his adventure, for she would never believe him.
“Well at least you’re alright,” his grandmother said. “Now come into the kitchen and I’ll make you supper.”
Later that evening as Alex and his grandmother were sitting in the living room, her knitting and him doing homework, Alex looked up at the clock above the fireplace to see what time it was. Suddenly his eyes fell upon the framed photo next to the clock. In the picture his grandmother sat in a chair with him as a smiling baby on her lap. A man stood behind her with one hand on her shoulder. Alex stared at the man, taking in his long beard and sailing captain’s uniform.
“Who is the man in that picture, Grandmother?” Alex asked.
“Your grandfather, my dear.” she answered.
“I don’t remember him,” Alex said.
“Well he died when you were very young.” She responded.
“Oh.” Alex said and went back to his homework, but after a moment he looked up again.
“What was my grandfather’s name?”
“His name was Tory.” She replied. “Captain Tory.”