Authors: Helen Goltz
When I was sure that he had truly departed, I put the hot chocolate down and sat back on the bed. I turned the laptop and read the last of the ghost traits listed on the site—ghosts remain the age they were when they died. So Jack was seventeen when he died, he’s seventeen now but he looks older—maybe because in those days, men started work in their teens and women were married and became mothers when they were super young, so they grew up quicker and looked more mature.
Reading on: ghosts don’t have a requirement for sleep like humans, they are restless creatures without a shadow. If the ghost is a demon, something will be missing when they take human form. I cringed ... major creepy! But Jack was one hundred percent there, I was sure of it. I could feel his presence so strongly and he took my hand, he carried me. That’s good; he’s probably not a demon then. I looked at the photo again; it was definitely Jack.
I was torn. I needed more information and I knew just the person to talk with—Uncle Seb. I looked at the large clock hanging near the door. It was ten-thirty and Uncle Seb was usually in his study until late; I had to see if he was up.
I grabbed my empty hot chocolate cup and made my way down the stairs. The lounge room was in darkness, as was the kitchen. I didn’t put on the lights, just made my way to the sink with the moonlight provided, avoiding looking out the windows, which took all my will power. I was too frightened of what I might see; I was frightened he might appear but I wanted him to as well.
Argo and Agnes had turned in, but Uncle Seb’s light was still on down the hallway. I coughed lightly as I walked down the hallway so I didn’t startle him.
“Is that you, Adam?” he called.
“No, it’s me Uncle Seb,” I appeared in his doorway.
He sat behind his desk, wearing his glasses and working on a model ship.
“Lia,” he smiled and removed his glasses. “What’s up?”
“Can I talk to you about the La Bella?” I asked.
“Of course, you know I’ll talk about ships until the ships come in ...” he smiled at his own joke. “Take a seat.” He looked around and pointed to a ship model with its rows of sails up. That’s her there,” he said.
I pulled up a chair on the other side of his desk.
“She’s beautiful. I was wondering what you knew about the crew?” I asked. “For my assignment.”
“Ah yes, how’s that going?” he asked.
“Great. I’m looking at a number of shipwrecks, but Chayse and Adam have both helped with the La Bella stuff and I’ve got some good information from the news clippings. There’s not much about the crew—those who died and survived.” I added both to avoid suspicion.
Uncle Seb nodded. “There’s a photo of William Ferrier with some of the survivors.”
“I saw it,” I said, “and one image of some of the victims.”
“Yes, there’s little recorded about the deceased,” Uncle Seb said. “It was a terrible end—the exhaustion, the conditions, trying to hold on and some of them only lads.”
He opened his own files and notes about the local area. He showed me several photographs and spoke about the survivors. I waited patiently not wanting to give away my urgency. Finally he started talking about those who didn’t make it. Just get to Jack!
“Then there was a young sailor Jack Denham, seventeen years old.” Uncle Seb turned to his computer and opened a file—he had a press clipping that I hadn’t seen. He read aloud parts of it to me about when a gigantic wave shocked onlookers and made survival seem impossible: “It seemed certain that the crew could no longer retain their precarious hold. To the amazement and the relief of the awestricken spectators, the plucky fellows still held on, but shortly after they were compelled to remove to a higher portion of the vessel, which had swerved right over on her beam ends, and began to gradually disappear.”
I thought of Jack clinging for life and realised how much more real the tragedy seemed to me now. Uncle Seb read on: “The unfortunate men on the schooner could be seen from shore piteously imploring the lifeboat to come nearer ... the sufferers whose lives were hanging in the balance ... could perceptibly feel the ship slowly sinking beneath them.” Uncle Seb stopped and looked at me. “You sure this won’t give you nightmares Lia?” he asked.
“It probably will Uncle Seb,” I realised I had my hand on my heart while I was listening to him read the account. “But it’s history.”
“That it is,” he agreed.
“Please keep going, I haven’t come across this information yet,” I said leaning forward and wrapping my arms around myself for warmth and support.
He nodded and read on. My ears were listening for Jack’s name and then he read it. “The first mate, Coulson, had his leg broken by falling debris, and he and the boy [Jack] Denham were washed away together at a later stage, in consequence of releasing their hold through their hands becoming benumbed.”
Jack’s hands were so cold. He must have held on for as long as he could, until he could no longer feel his hands or feel them releasing the rope.
Uncle Seb read what information he had, finishing with a note about Jack: “he was the youngest on board and originally from Melbourne.” He strolled down the news clipping and read the captain’s statement: “Denham was too exhausted to move when the others charged to the starboard bow, and soon afterwards disappeared.”
I blinked away tears before Uncle Seb could notice.
“From memory, I’m pretty sure they found his body though,” Uncle Seb said.
“Did they?” I leaned forward.
“Let me see,” he rifled through press clippings saved on his computer. “Yes here. Ah well, they sort of found his body.” He read the clipping. “This is from
, 24 November 1905: ‘at the inquest to-day on the headless body found yesterday, it was stated that the body was believed to be that of the boy, Jack Denham, who was washed off the wrecked vessel. The funeral took place this afternoon, and was attended by the survivors from the wreck and a number of residents of Warrnambool’
. That’s it. Although I remember from my readings that there was some initial confusion as to whether the body was Jack’s or seaman Harry Watson.”
“Where do you think Jack is buried, if it is Jack?” I asked.
“I believe he is buried in the Warrnambool cemetery—you might find the cemetery records online.”
“If he was from Melbourne, I wonder why his family didn’t take him back there to bury him,” I thought out loud.
“Perhaps he had no family or they didn’t have the money to do that. It was a different time,” Uncle Seb reminded me. “In those days, often people were buried where they died. They didn’t have the preservation methods like they do now to keep the body cold and stored for days on end.”
“Creepy, again. Thank you, Uncle Seb,” I rose. “I know it’s getting late, I don’t want to keep you up.”
“Anytime Lia,” he said pulling off his reading glasses again. “I hope that helps.”
“You’ve been a huge help,” I assured him, gave him a kiss goodnight on his cheek and I re-entered the dark hallway. I headed up the stairs to my room. I had to go to the cemetery.
She knows, Ophelia knows about me and yet, she’s not scared. I was there when Sebastian was telling her of my death and I felt her sadness and compassion for me; I knew she was different. But I still don’t know why she is stronger than the others and why being with her might be the end of both of us.
I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last few days as I watched her growing to resent and hate me, and miss and love me. If I can keep my power long enough to take Ophelia with me to my world, I don’t care then if it is the end for both of us—we’ll be together forever.
She can at least sleep; hours of the day wiled away in unconsciousness while I am awake every minute of every hour of every day trying not to think of her.
It is supposed to be getting easier but it is not. I can’t bear thinking of her with another guy, his hands upon her, his lips on her mouth—I can’t stand it!
I returned to my room and closed the door. I sank down to the floor, leaning against the bed. After Mum and Dad had died I thought I had no tears left to cry but I was wrong; hearing how Jack had died, so cold, and after a struggle was devastating. Is that why he couldn’t move on ... because his life never really had a chance to start?
I rose from the floor, I was going to right this. I don’t care what Jack is or what Jack was, he’s here now and I want to know why, and why he shunned me.
I strode to the curtains and pulled them open. Standing on our rock silhouette by the moon was Jack; his hands in his coat pockets, his head held high. He was looking directly at the window—at me, the first time he had appeared in a week. I wasn’t going to let him off lightly. I held his gaze and he stared back.
“Come to me, Jack,” I whispered. A dark cloud passed in front of the moon and the beach was cloaked in darkness. When the moon seeped out again he was gone.
“No, Jack!” I cried with anger.
“I’m here,” a voice said behind me and I spun around.
I breathed heavily; he took the air from the room standing there behind me.
“Ophelia,” he said my name and stepped towards me.
I shook my head. “Don’t you dare, Jack, don’t ...”
He looked away from me, and out the window to the ocean. He drew a deep breath and the room chilled.
“You’re strong, you take my power from me,” he said, returning his gaze to me. “You’ll destroy me, but I need you, like you need oxygen.”
I stepped back and shook my head. “No Jack. You left me ... you didn’t come ...”
“It was a mistake,” he stepped towards me and I put my hands up to stop him. He stayed where he was, his eyes boring through me. “Are you ... scared of me?”
“No,” I said.
“You know what I am, Ophelia. I would have told you, eventually.”
“I’m not scared of you,” I said. I noticed my hands were shaking and I folded my arms in front of me. I moved away from the window.
I shook my head. “You don’t get it Jack. I ...” I couldn’t say I was in love with him aloud. It was too early, too wrong, too right. And if he freaked out last time just because I said he was in my head ...
“I am in your head, in your space, in your bedroom, in your world,” he said reading my thoughts. “I didn’t leave Ophelia because I didn’t want you, I left because I had no right to ... possess you.”
I couldn’t breathe, the room was cold and Jack was so close and I was trying to think about every word he said and what it meant and if he was coming back to me, when he rushed towards me.
“No!” I tripped backward and pushed him away. “I don’t trust you ... I’m better now, I’ve forgotten you.”
“I have,” my eyes flared in defiance as I backed up to the bedroom door. I felt for the doorknob. “You don’t get to just walk back into my life when it suits you. I’m not your on-and-off beach buddy.”
“Listen to me,” he tried to placate me.
“You have nothing I want to hear, Jack,” I said. His face fell and he bit his tongue, looking at me. He was close enough to reach me, but kept his distance.
I continued. “I know who you are, or who you were, and I am so, so very sorry about what happened to you. But you just go on, I don’t. I can’t do much more heartbreak ... not this month, maybe not this year.” I could feel myself tearing up again. Damn.
Jack at least looked ashamed.
“Believe me, I didn’t disappear from your world because I didn’t care,” he said again. “Ophelia, I have drowned once before, but you were drowning me again. I don’t know what it means yet, I’ve never felt that.”
The house moaned loudly. I had to get out of the room, it was so cold and if I stayed, I knew I would forgive him. I turned the doorknob quietly behind my back while he spoke and swung around quickly to leave.
Jack was there, he slammed the door closed, locked it and spun me around.
“Forgive me?” he pressed against me.
I used my anger like a shield over my heart. He wouldn’t get the chance to hurt me twice. I struggled to get away from him.
“Don’t fight me Ophelia, you drain us both,” he said. “Stop, please.”
He pressed so hard against me I couldn’t move. I wanted to kiss him so badly.
“Please Ophelia,” he whispered.
I stopped and let the fight escape my body. He pressed his forehead against mine and I closed my eyes and gripped him in case he disappeared.
Her touch was burning me, draining me and yet she shivered from my cold presence.
She drew ragged breaths and if I had been alive, my heartbeat would have been matching the fast drumbeats I could hear from her heart.
“You’re killing me, but being away from you is killing me more,” I whispered to her. I moved back only a little, enough to see her face fully. She was so fragile and beautiful; those huge eyes looking up at me with no fear. I had to kiss her this time.
My lips touched hers and I breathed her in. She returned my kiss, my first kiss that really mattered. She pulled away and her hand reached for my face, the warmth seeping through me, the power leaving my body. She touched my face with curiosity.
“Don’t do that to me again, Jack,” she said. “Be with me or don’t, but don’t leave me hanging.”
“You know what I am now,” I looked into her eyes. “It is your decision, Ophelia. I can’t pretend I am good for you, that I can give you any sort of life ...”
“Shh,” she pressed her finger to my lips. “Times have changed since 1905. Men don’t need to provide for women any more, Jack. Having you, us ...”
“You don’t know what you’re saying yet,” I told her. “I’ll show you, soon, what a life with me would be like. Once you truly know, if you can’t be with me, then I will understand and leave, forever. I won’t put you through anything like this again. You can keep my old photo and maybe, every now and then, you can remember you ... cared for this guy once.”
Her eyes filled with tears.
“I care for you now,” she said.
“I am in love with you, Ophelia.” I gave her the security she needed. It drained my own power more. “But now, I have to go.”
“No,” she grabbed me to her, pressed her head into my neck.
“I don’t want to go, and I’ll be back, a lot, I promise ... but I have to go now.”
She stepped back and tilted her head on the side while she thought. I wanted to stay the night holding her in my arms and breathing her in.
“Can I ask you one question before you go?” she stared at me quizzically.
“Maybe, if it doesn’t take a lot of detail to answer,” I teased her and reached for her hand.
She smiled, the first time I had seen her smile for days and days.
“Are you all here?” she asked. “I mean, do you have a hole in your chest or a limb missing?”
I frowned, looked down at my feet, back at her and laughed. “Trust me, I’m all here. Where did you get that weird idea?”
She shrugged. “Research.”
“You can do that first hand now,” I told her. “But not right now, I have to go or I’m going to be too weak to ... another time.” I kissed her again. “I will see you tomorrow, I promise.” Then I turned and walked through her bedroom glass windows and disappeared into the night.