“You’re not lying to me now, are you?” Reed demanded.
“What’s wrong?” Tomas asked immediately.
She yanked her calf on his side, reminded him to move. “We’re ok!” She shouted to Tomas before hissing. “Of course not!”
“How?” he asked, puzzled. How could anybody cut their own head off?
She shrugged. “The record said the ax flew through the cabin, when the ship hit the shore. I don’t know what speed it had to have to have such force in it, but they found no foul play.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I wouldn’t believe it either, but I’m only telling you what I read. Not a word to Meredith, ok? Please!”
“Wouldn’t that keep her out?” His foot yanked as he sought the next stone to anchor behind until the waves ceased.
“Are you kidding? You sure are a city boy.” She patted him with the tips of her fingers. “Around here, if the kids find out, that’s like invitation!”
“Was it for you?”
“I never cooped up the courage.”
After few more steps the water line declined suddenly. There seemed to be large flat limestone panels beneath them formed a steady course of steps he could easily climb and he set her down on her feet. Second later Meredith splashed next to her and Tomas stretched his shoulder muscles, joining his brother.
“She’s heavier than I thought.” He explained, waving his hand for them to go in first, bending backwards.
“Are you tired?”
“I’m ok, I’ll get her back later, I just need to rest for a moment. Look, she’s already off!”
They followed the small patting of the footsteps to the tilted board. Closer up, the ship looked slightly bigger than he estimated it to be. A good size for few days on the sea fishing. It still sported the hooks, now off the ropes, on the sides that could easily be there to heave up large nets. The ship was tilted, but not so much that you couldn’t walk on it. The green paint had started to peel off, sticking their hands each time they touched the sides and the edges of them looked slimy enough that none of them wanted to check out the view from there. It had rusted way less than Reed had expected. From far, it did look as if most of the white boarding had stained from the metal parts, but on a closer look it seemed the tacky green had kept the rust away. It still kept creeping down the walls under the low roof and around the bull’s eye windows. There was an odd scent around which got stronger as they approached the cabin. The had to cower to get through the door. The few steps down it was almost tolerable hight, but they still had to keep their backs bent.
Meredith wasted no time heading straight to the captain’s rooms few meters away, climbing like a monkey on the railing and disappearing fast behind the big doorway. There she slipped behind the fixed bench looking like a little alien in space ship ready for liftoff.
“Ghosts don’t come out at daylight.” She insisted, while her eyes kept searching around, expecting something to happen.
The table, which was fixed on like everything else, had a small glass ash tray and that’s where Reed headed. It was filled over time with cigarette buts.
“It’s not that big of a ship, why won’t they clean it out?” Tomas asked, patting the roof with his fist. It echoed back melodically.
She shrugged. “It’s been here way before my parents came here and nobody talks about it, aside the ghost story they tell the next generation, so, no idea.” She searched the wall cabinets on the right hand. They were empty. The large window now looking straight to the cloudy sky was dirty, just as almost every other thing in the room.
Almost. Then why was the ash tray shining?
This wasn’t the only thing off. The chair where the girl was sitting looked clean too.
Valerie went to sit next to Meredith and the ship let out a long whine, which made both of them grab on to the bench and them shoot their hands up to fix themselves between the ceiling and floor.
“God,” she murmured and Reed saw her looking straight at the ash tray, “my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me then!”
Reed frowned. He picked up one of the buts. The paper was still white with distinguishable blue ribbon under yellow filter and the tobacco hadn’t absorbed the moisture in yet. There were others like it surrounded by dozens of weathered ones.
“I saw a man here few days ago. You can’t make out any details from the beach, but I’m sure it was a man, not a ghost.”
“Someone’s been here?” Tomas asked. “Someone nervous I see.”
“I saw him move around here, back and forth, before he disappeared from my view.”
“Was he looking for something?” Reed tossed the butt back among others.
“I don’t know.” She whispered, earnestly. “I thought I’d seen the ghost Jasper was talking about, but that can’t be right – he was too solid for any ghost. Besides, I don’t believe in them.”
“They’re not real either?”
For a second their breathing stopped, being reminded she was listening them and probably broadcasting everything her tiny ears heard.
“They can be. Just because I don’t believe in them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Like polar bears – never seen one for real, but they still step dance on North Pole.”
“And penguins eat them for Popsicles.” Tomas mumbled, his attention on the old poster of a pin up girl in cowboy costume.
“Penguins have never seen polar bears!” Meredith snorted.
“Man, they live in on different continents with half the world in between!” Reed bumped his brother.
“No I…” Tomas attention came back. “Oh! They do?”
“Smart like always.” Reed hummed.
“Besides!” Meredith shouted. “Bears are too big for penguin’s beaks! That’s why they eat fish!”
Tomas looked honestly confused. “What exactly did I say?”
Reed didn’t hear the answer. His eyes focused on the bright red dragon crawling over Valerie’s shoulder and the jawline muscles that moved while she forced a smile. Her arms had gripped hard on the edge of the bench and he could see her skin covering in goosebumps.
Her eyes fixed on her shivering figure. “You’re cold. Just like the bears. Come on, let’s look in the nose.” Reed reached them his hand and pulled them on their feet.
After fifteen minutes they realized though that this was all there was. No ghosts, nothing notable besides few piles of rusty iron bars and collection of seashells that had made the old barge their home.
The rain had stopped by the time they finished exploring the ship. There was still no sun, but one could see blue through the thinning cloud line and it lightened up the mood considerably. This time Meredith didn’t want a piggy ride. Instead she clamped down on Tomas’ left arm and pretended she could swim while the older brother dragged him behind following Valerie’s shouts to turn left or right, accordingly to the seafloor.
Reed waited them to get slightly ahead before he slipped his palm around Valerie and pulled her in his lap and descended into the water. Something had piked her nerves enough that her eyes never stopped traveling around the ship and shore. She had been frowning since they found the cigarette buts. It had to be odd, finding out there were secrets on island even as small as Drasan.
She shifted, trying to find a better hold, but her eyes remained off him, despite him staring her now without a pause. Her hair were shining and temptingly silky.
“I stood there for half an hour and I never saw him leave.” She said quietly. “If you were here to search for something, wouldn’t you leave eventually?”
It took Reed a moment to refocus on her voice and understand what she had said. He didn’t reply, but she didn’t seem to want one. Instead he adjusted his hold, hopping her higher, closer to his heart while he tried to see past her hips the rocks in the bottom of the clear water.
Before he noticed he was already setting her down in low water and she speared no time to leave, taking the body warmth with her and leaving him standing there, feeling cold.
“We gotta get you inside, get you dried up.” She fussed over the girl and thanked them quickly for the weirdest half an hour trip Reed had ever experienced. She pulled her rain coat over her swimsuit and they went while brothers watched. Tomas waved few times when the little girl looked back, but Valerie kept steady course on the road and seemed eager to go.
Reed kept chewing on his lower lip, thinking on what she’d said on their way over. He’d never left. Reed turned to look around the area, where the ship was. There were no rocks around to hide anybody. The ship itself would only offer temporary shadow, but eventually the boat would slip out, because the waves would carry it away too much. The sun was glowing through the ship’s windows, creating a corridor that left nothing for imagination. Then how come she didn’t see him leave?
Unless she’d be lying, but why would she?
“You spent no time getting in her swimsuit.” Tomas’ voice was purring, low and seductive, like the one he used on ladies at the bars.
Reed’s lips twitched. “Don’t be rude.”
Tomas nodded with a satisfied smile before he broke into a grin.
“I’m gonna take her on a date!”
As if to mock, the sun came out, showering his brown locks with gold and kicking all air out of Reed’s lungs.