Home From The Sea
by Melissa Good
"I'm not wearing that." Kerry folded her arms and assumed her most stubborn expression. "I don't care what you say, Dar, I'm not going to the company Halloween party dressed as Dogbert." The blond haired, green eyed woman surveyed the costume. "So forget it."
"Aw." Dar Roberts, her tall, dark haired companion walked over and picked up a floppy ear. "You'd look so cute, Kerry, c'mon."
"No." Kerry scowled. "And I would not look cute as a round, goofy white pooch."
"Okay." Dar wandered down the row of possibilities. "How about this?" She held up an Indian Princess outfit in white leather, with tiny beads.
"Boy. You're into extremes today, aren't you?" Kerry picked out a more sedate outfit. "There. How's Robin Hood strike you?"
"Don't you mean Maid Marian?"
"Heck no. What fun did she ever have?" The blond woman picked up a few accessories and headed for the counter. "And I can't wait to see you in that armor."
"Mm." Dar followed her up, reserving judgment on the heavy chain mail outfit Kerry had talked her into. "Between the two of us, we'll have enough weapons to take the Centrust tower if we have to."
Kerry paid for her costume and they left the store, walking through the setting sun and driving the short distance to the ferry terminal that would take them home.
After dinner, they sat quietly out on the porch overlooking the Atlantic, and watched the stars appear, along with a nice, full moon that painted a creamy stripe across the lightly ruffled waters. "I like Halloween." Kerry commented. "It's fun, and everyone gets to act a little crazy. We used to go out to the lake near my parents' house and tell ghost stories around a little fire."
"Ghost stories? " Dar chuckled.
"Hey, don't laugh. Some of them were really scary. We had this one about a phantom train, where you could hear the horn over and over again, but if you stayed near the tracks, you'd never see it." Kerry told her. "Unless you were about to die; then you did, and the engineer waved at you."
"If all the people who saw that were about to die, how'd you find out about it?" Her companion asked, reasonably. "Interdimensional E-mail?"
"Hah hah." Kerry propped her bare feet up against the railing. "I bet you don't know any good ghost stories, do you?"
Dar was silent for a bit. "Well, as a matter of fact, I do." She nodded. "Not so much a story, but a legend right here on the island."
"Ooh." Kerry wriggled into a more comfortable position. "I can't wait to hear this. Some Miccosoukee tale?"
"Not exactly." Dar laced her fingers around one knee. "This island used to be owned by the Vanderbilts."
"I know that."
"Do you want to hear the story or not?"
Kerry covered her mouth penitently.
"They built a big mansion on the edge of the water, overlooking the Atlantic, and that's where they lived a good part of the year." Dar pointed. "You can see the mansion there, right?"
"They got so fond of the island that those Vanderbilts who died here were buried on the property in two stone mausoleums because digging out here wasn't an option. But the head of the family, Commodore Vanderbilt, was an old Navy man, and he went out one winter and his ship was lost at sea."
"His wife was devastated. She pined away for him, and she waited and waited for him to come home, but he never did. So she died in the mansion, and she was buried here. The mansion was passed down to some of the children, but they didn't come out here for a while."
"When they did, they started to hear some strange stories from the help they'd left behind. It seems that the maids and the gardeners were saying that on nights with a full moon, they'd seen old Mrs. Vanderbilt wandering around the mansion, calling for the Commodore."
"Really?" Kerry murmured. "Wow. That's sad - and sort of romantic."
"Well, the staff didn't think so." Dar remarked dryly. "A lot of them were talking about giving notice. Anyway, one of the sons said he'd stay in the mansion overnight, just to prove there wasn't anything to be afraid of." She fell silent.
"So what happened?"
"They found him at the bottom of the pool over there." Dar told her. "Seems he was walking in his sleep and walked right into the water and drowned."
Kerry felt a shiver go down her spine. "That's - very strange." She peeked around Dar's body to peer at the shadowy mansion, visible in the moonlight just down the shore. "Guess it's just a story though - or we'd have heard about it by now."
Dar rested her chin on the railing, and gazed down the shoreline. "I don't know. Every once in a while it pops back up again. Clemente was mentioning it the other day; seems one of his maids ran screaming from the second floor and fell down the circular stairs late one night. Claims she saw a ghost."
"Ew." Kerry made a face. "She was probably imagining it."
"Probably." Dar agreed. "Well, I'm going to go for a run. Want to join me?"
"Not this time." Kerry regretfully declined. "I've got a project I've got to work on and two loads of laundry to do." She got up and followed Dar inside, then climbed upstairs to her office and settled down behind her desk. She pulled up her files and started to work, but the story of the Vanderbilts kept creeping into her thoughts until she finally got up and went back downstairs into the very quiet living room. Dar had taken their Labrador, Chino, out running with her, so Kerry was completely alone as she wandered back out onto the balcony and leaned against the railing.
Her eyes found the silent mansion, and she studied the upper floor, where the doors of what used to be the Vanderbilts' bedrooms opened out directly onto the ocean. The stone walls of the old house glowed dimly in the moonlight, with the darkened panes of shuttered windows staring emptily out over the sea.
It was a trick of the light, she was sure, as a shadow moved across the far off railing and disappeared. A bird, or something, right?
Birds don't fly at night, Kerry. She squinted, convinced she'd seen the movement again. What in the world… She hesitated, then made up her mind and ducked into the condo, stopping in the kitchen long enough to grab a flashlight before she opened the back door and went down the steps and out the tiny garden area, closing the metal gate behind her.
The shore was quiet, as she made her way down the sand amidst the wavelets licking up against her bare feet. She walked past the darkened Beach Club, then made her way up the beach and onto the cut coral stairs that led to the vast patio around the old mansion.
The building loomed before her, a two story stone construct with thick, gothic scrollery on the edges and carved statues on the corners that watched her with empty eyes as she moved closer. Her bare footsteps scuffed lightly on the rough coral as she skirted the large heated pool and peered up at the balcony.
Nothing. Only the soft hiss of the waves, and the stirring of the tropical birds in the aviary nearby broke the silence.
Then she heard the faintest, almost only a hint of sound from above her, as though cloth were being drawn over stone. She backed up and looked at the balcony, but saw only shadows.
Spurred on by her curiosity, she went to the back door where the bar was and tested the handle. She was surprised when it moved readily under her fingers, then realized the cleaning staff was probably not finished after the late dinner inside. She pushed the teak door open and entered, a cold blast of A/C hitting her in the face as she stepped from coral to carpet and let the door close.
Kerry moved past the brass and wood bar, where freshly cleaned glasses rested on rubber mats. A black case attracted her attention, though, and she detoured long enough to steal a maraschino cherry from it, sucking contentedly on the lurid fruit as she continued on her way.
The bar led into what had once been the Commodore's library, and was now just a lounge area. It was furnished with overstuffed leather furniture, and lined with books. She moved past them and up the two stairs into the main entrance, where the huge double wooden doors were closed tight. Here in the circular entry, a spiral staircase in marble clung to the walls, and above her, Kerry suddenly heard a sound as though something had been dropped.
Her heart started to pound. "C'mon, Kerry. Don't be stupid," she murmured to herself, as she put a hand on the railing, and started up the stairs. The treads were worn, and the surface felt strange under her toes, half polished and half rough where the marble surface had been rubbed away over the years. She shifted the flashlight in her hand, but didn't switch it on since the moonlight pouring in the many windows made the light unnecessary as of yet.
She came out on the top landing and peered down the hallway, which had doors lining the east side, and fewer ones on the west. A thin strip of old carpet ran down the center, since this part of the mansion wasn't used in the daily club activities; and, in fact, the old bedrooms were used mostly for storing furniture, and to provide office space for the club's maitre'd and the catering department.
But they were all gone now, safely home. The silence pressed in on her and she paused, listening. A soft creak made her jump a little, and she turned, peering into the open doorway next to her. It was a darkened bedroom, and she eased her head around the door, looking around and seeing nothing but dusty furniture. A mirror was mounted on the wall and she crept inside, glancing out the double doors at the sea, then turning to find herself reflected back in the darkly silvered surface.
Something moved. Kerry whirled, but found nothing there, only a tapestry hanging limply on the wall.
Okay. She took a deep breath, and released it. Just relax. She flexed her hands and rubbed her arms, feeling a chill coming in on the night air from outside as a door swung open with the wind. For a moment, she stared at it, then she walked over and gently closed it to, feeling the stiff resistance as the wind and water warped wood settled grudgingly into place.
"I think I better get out of here." Her own voice sounded strange, and far off. She moved to the door and reentered the hallway, intending on heading for the stairs, when she stopped on hearing a loud creak behind her.
Slowly she turned, her heart beating fast, her eyes searching the darkness nervously. The empty hall stretched before her, lit only by the stripes of moonlight coming through the half open doors. Calming a little, she walked forward, feeling her skin start to prickle as she reached the last door, to the last chamber, which was slightly larger and more ornate than the others.
It beckoned to her. She found herself drawn towards it, and before she really knew what was happening, she'd pushed the wooden panel open and entered the room.
The first thing that hit her was the smell. A delicate hint of roses tickled her nose, and she turned in a circle, looking for its source.
There was none.
The door to the balcony was open, and the sea breeze was entering, making the softly draped fabric over the large canopied bed move and brushing over Kerry's skin with a hint of cool moisture. The walls here were covered in old, faded paint, half-worn trellised flowers climbing up their reach to the plastered ceiling. A finely carved wooden dresser took up one whole wall, with a round mirror mounted over it. The mirror had a single, long crack running diagonally through it, but was otherwise intact.
A strong wind blew in, and the door slammed shut behind her. Kerry jumped halfway to the roof and pelted over to it, grabbing the round, worn brass handle and tugging with all her strength. It came off in her hand, and the door remained stubbornly shut.
She was starting to shake.
"Okay." She forced herself to calm down and walked over to the balcony doors, going out onto the cold marble and taking in a breath of clean, salt air. She looked out over the sea, watching the lights go across the horizon, then turned to move to the next window over and reenter that way.
Her eyes fastened on a moving, shadowy form and saw a hand outstretched, coming towards her, and she panicked. "Jesus!" She tore back inside and got to the door, hearing a creak behind her as she grabbed the ancient mechanism in a powerful grip and turned it, feeling a faint click and throwing her body backwards to yank the door open.
Mercifully, it moved, and she bolted through it, running full speed down the corridor towards the steps only to suddenly have the first bedroom door swing open right in front of her. Unable to stop, she slammed into it, knocking herself down and senseless for a long, foggy moment.
A chill came over her and she scrambled to her feet, only to feel a touch on the back of her neck. She shoved the door out of her way and ran, sparing a glance behind her as she cleared the hallway.
Hands grabbed her, and she screamed, struggling against the grip that held her nearly motionless as she wrenched her body to one side in a desperate attempt to get away. Her senses were on overload, trying to feed her panicked brain the sensations cascading around her, until her sense of smell overrode everything else with a single, stark, desperately important message.
Ghosts didn't sweat.
They also didn't generally call her by name, as her ears finally registered the howling sound around her.
They also weren't usually soft, and warm, and taller than she was.
And they didn't bring barking Retrievers with them to lick her shaking knees.
"Oh my god." Kerry collapsed into Dar's arms, burying her face into the sweat dampened t-shirt as the shivers worked their way through her body. "Oh my god." She whispered.
"Easy." Dar's low voice rumbled. "Easy. I got you." She rubbed the poor woman's back and hugged her. "I got you." She glanced over Kerry's shoulder down the dusty hallway and shook her head. "Just relax."
Kerry remained silent for a bit, huddled in Dar's embrace, until her breathing returned to normal and she was able to open her eyes. "Sorry." She patted the surface she'd been hitting. "I think I scared the crap out of myself."
"No kidding." Dar circled her shoulders with a long arm. "You all right? You've got a bump on your head." She checked the lump carefully. "What happened?"
Kerry peeked uncertainly back down the hall. "I don't know - really - I…thought I saw something moving up here from the apartment, so I came down to check it out and…" She looked up. "Did you just come up the stairs?"
"Dar, I saw something out there. I swear it." Kerry blurted. "There was something outside on the balcony, and it chased me." She exhaled shakily. "The door in that last room slammed, and I couldn't get out, then it was out side, and I got the door open finally, and then it chased me, and the other door opened and I hit it, and then I got up and it grabbed me and I…"
"Shh." Dar stroked her face gently. "Okay, okay… I can see that something scared you, that's for sure." Her eyes searched the walls and carpet. "I'll go check it out. You stay here."
"Like hell." Kerry latched onto her firmly. "I don't need to see it again. Let's get out of here, Dar."
"Let me just take a look around." Dar coaxed. "C'mon, stay with me then if you want. We'll just walk down to the last room and back." She paused. "That was the master bedroom."
"I think the master's still in it," Kerry mumbled, reluctantly allowing herself to be dragged along. With Dar here, though, the building seemed to lose its menace, any ghosts lurking driven back by her lover's powerful personality. They walked down the hall accompanied by the frisking Chino and stepped into the bedroom, which was now a mundanely drab, sneezingly dusty room completely empty of people, corporeal or otherwise. Kerry shook her head. "I saw something." She sighed. "It wasn't just my imagination, was it…was that just a story, or was it really true, Dar?"
"I don't know." Dar led her out onto the balcony, a bare expanse of marble with curls of hairline cracks in it from years of exposure and holding up under its own weight. She walked to the edge and rested her hands on it, gazing out at the sea. "I… always sort of hoped the story wasn't true." She turned and faced Kerry. "I always hoped that somehow, they'd found their way back to each other."
"Mm." Kerry rubbed her arms, still chilled. "You don't feel creepy around here?"
"Just a little sad." Dar gazed out at the water again. "But then, my father's family's been Navy for god only knows how many generations - maybe I just understand it from a different perspective."
The moon went behind the clouds, and they were left in a brief, almost startling darkness. Kerry went to Dar's side and they looked out, seeing the ship's lights bright and clear on the horizon.
Far off, they heard a ship's bell, soft and lonely in the night.
Behind them, a door closed.
They looked at each other. "Can we get out of here now?" Kerry asked, feeling the chill come over her skin again.
"Yeah." Dar agreed. "Good idea."
They made it out of the mansion and walked out onto the coral deck, still shrouded in shadows and made their way home.
Without looking back.