Authors: Helen Goltz
I saw him again that night, well early morning. It was like he controlled the moon and shone it into my bedroom. It leaked through the curtains, hanging suspended out the front of our home in the middle of the ocean. It was just after three o’clock when I stirred and decided to rise. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, the only answer is to get up and do something. I had to keep the noise down however so I didn’t wake Uncle Seb, Adam and the furry kids.
I decided to sit in the bay window in my room again and watch the ocean, maybe I would see a ship on the horizon or some of the trawlers coming in. I pulled track pants and a knit pullover on over my T-shirt and underpants and prying open some of the curtain, slipped into the bay window seat. I turned to look down below and jumped in fright. He was there again, the same guy, this time he stood on the rocks looking directly up at me, his hands in his coat pockets, as though he had been waiting for me to appear.
My heart was beating so fast from the fright. I could easily make out his smile like he was enjoying the joke. He looked down at the rocks a bit sheepishly then back up at me again. He had on a long jacket, like a military jacket that went to his knees, with dark pants and black boots. He looked strikingly handsome. His smile was infectious, a bit cheeky, and then he raised his hand and beckoned me down.
I felt a shiver of fear and excitement. I bit my lip while I thought about it—he could be an axe murderer or he could attack me and then next day everyone would say how stupid I was to be down there on the rocks at that hour. He cocked his head to the side like he was trying to read my thoughts, then he looked down at the rocks again, nudged something with his boot, and pushing his hands into his coat pocked, he turned back around to look out to sea.
I jumped up; I was going to go meet him. I put my runners on and grabbed from the cupboard a long, black waterproof jacket that Uncle Seb had given me on my arrival. I tied it up and carefully opened my door. There was not a sound. I crept down the stairs and met Argo at the bottom of the staircase. I patted him and he returned to his bed. I tugged the door open, snuck out and moved quickly across the path to the beach’s edge. I expected him to be gone again as I walked out on the sand and turned right towards the rock and rock pools. But there he was, striding from rock to rock, bending down and wading his hand through the rock pools. He caught sight of me and stood to full height.
I shivered with the cold or maybe expectation. I must be crazy going out to meet a guy on the beach at three a.m. Who does that except in those horror movies that you watch through your fingers and scream out “turn the light on” or “don’t go in there, go back, go back!” I was getting carried away. He looked as nervous as I was, and smiled a beautiful smile. He was about a head taller than me and pale too. I could see a scar near his eyebrow and the top of a tattoo on his neck, the rest of the tattoo disappearing beneath his jacket line.
“Hello moonlight girl,” he said in a warm tone.
I smiled. “Ophelia,” I told him.
He repeated my name.
“And you are?” I asked.
“Pleased to meet you at last,” he said. “I thought you would never come. I’m Jack.” He held out his hand. “Jack Denham.”
I took his hand and I can’t explain what happened. It was some kind of connection. It sounds crazy to say but it was as if I had always known him, like I needed to know him. Then he let my hand go.
She was so beautiful. I knew the moment I set eyes on her that I would have her, but when we touched I was a little overwhelmed by the electricity—I had to let her hand go. I’m sure we were destined; some people don’t believe that but I have always believed that souls are made in pairs. Everyone else that you meet is just a learning experience, but one person is made just for you and you don’t want to lose that chance to be with them.
“Why are you up at this hour?” she asked me. “I’ve seen you before haven’t I?
“You did see me then?” I answered.
She nodded. “I thought I was seeing a ghost.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I teased her.
She smiled again, bit her lower lip and looked out to sea.
I watched her, not wanting to take my eyes from her face. “I could ask the same thing of you ... what are you doing up at this hour?”
“I guess we’re both restless souls,” she shrugged.
“I feel calm now,” I told her.
Her eyes searched my face, she wasn’t sure about me or why she felt the chemistry but I knew she did as well.
I offered my hand to her. “Come and sit on the rock with me for a while and watch the moon and tides for a bit? We don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.”
She looked surprised like I had read her thoughts, which I had.
“That would be good,” she sighed ever so softly. “When you’re new, everyone wants to talk and hear your story.”
“And telling it is like opening a wound,” I said.
“Do you know ... about me?” her brow furrowed as she looked at me.
“No,” I answered, “but I know about me.”
“Oh,” she said, realising that I might not want to share my story just yet. She stepped towards me and placed her hand in mine. I led her up the rocks and guided her as she jumped over some of the little rock pools.
“You have a slight accent,” she narrowed her eyes studying me. “Or you speak ... well, formally.”
“I didn’t notice,” I shrugged.
“It’s nice,” she assured me. “Are you a local?”
“I am,” I told her. I had been here for a very, very long time already.
She fell into me once and I reluctantly straightened her.
“Sorry,” she blushed.
“I’m not,” I said making her blush even more. I picked a spot that I knew would remain high and dry and where the moon would look magical and we sat until dawn.
When she had to leave, I helped her back to the sand. I watched her leave before Adam and her uncle were up and the house stirred into action. I was gone before she looked out of her bedroom window for me, but I knew she would look. Our bond was meant to be and I missed her already.
“You haven’t stopped yawning all morning,” Peggy prodded me at lunchtime. “Did you stay up late studying?”
Harry scoffed. “It’s the second week of term!”
“Just because you don’t study, doesn’t mean other people aren’t cramming,” Holly told her twin.
I saw Peggy nod. She was hesitant to go against Harry but she agreed with Holly. I noticed she was trying a few different hairstyles now that she had closer access to Harry through me. I think Harry remained clueless to her charms.
“There was a fight last night,” Harry said, saving me from having to explain my nocturnal happenings to Peggy.
“Yeah and Adam came off worse,” Holly added. She took the band from her wrist and tied her bleached blond hair back as a light wind whipped between us.
My ears pricked up at the mention of Adam’s name. “What happened? Was Adam hurt? But he was home last night.”
Harry took over the telling of the story. “Must have gone out for a while around nine, it was down in front of the surf club—Adam and Chayse at it again but Adam took the punishment. He’s alright; he walked home.”
“I didn’t see him this morning ... but he did turn in early last night. He must have gone back out.” I tried to remember. “What were they fighting about?” I scanned the grounds for Chayse and his pack but couldn’t see them.
Harry looked at Holly and back at me and shrugged. “I don’t know really, some family grudge that goes back a long time.”
I frowned. “But ... I don’t get it.”
Holly stepped in. “It’s complex.”
Peggy rolled her eyes. “Adam’s great, great, well ancestor, named William Ferrier, saved some of the sailors on the La Bella, but he couldn’t save one of Chayse’s relatives. He and the other rescuers could only reach so many because of the size of the sea. ”
“Well that’s hardly Adam’s fault and I’m sure William saved as many as he could,” I said. “Really, they’re fighting about that?”
“No,” Peggy continued. “The widow of Chayse’s ancestor moved here so she could be close to where her husband drew his last breath—romantic huh?” she said with a glance to Harry and then continued. “She already had three sons, so the Johann name continued on in this town. But the Johann clan was always angry because the town celebrated Adam’s ancestor and other heroes in the town with statues and the annual Seafarer’s Parade, but never acknowledged those who lost their lives here. They thought they should be remembered too.”
“Ah,” it started to dawn on me. “So they begrudged the Ferriers for their status in the community and since then there has been this rivalry over the generations, sort of?”
“Precisely,” Holly piped in. “Especially when you’re talking men,” she said rolling her eyes and glancing at Harry.
“What?” he held up his hands. “I wouldn’t be that stupid.”
We all considered that for a moment and moved on.
Holly said, “So for generations they’ve hated each other and taunted each other, and even if you got Chayse and Adam together to talk about why they hated each other I bet they couldn’t really tell you. But it’s in their blood.”
“That’s dopey,” I added.
“And Chayse is taller and bigger than Adam, he should lay off,” I added.
Harry scoffed again. “Don’t worry, Adam held his own. He’s fit, fast and good with his fists.”
Holly, Peggy and I grimaced.
“And you know about the midnight curse?” Peggy said.
I saw Holly and Harry exchange looks.
“No,” I looked at them suspiciously and then back to Peggy. I remember now that Harry said something about Adam not staying out after midnight. I caught it in my peripheral hearing first or second day on the bus, but there was so much else going on I forgot it.
“It’s nothing, just a joke,” Holly said. “A sort of myth or legend, that’s all.”
“No, it’s not,” Peggy said full of knowledge. “It’s a curse.” She turned back to me relishing her role as storyteller. “Because the widow was said to have heard her husband call her name right as the clock struck midnight—when he died, despite the fact he was here and she was on the other side of the earth—it is said that she wept so many tears that all surviving sailors and their descendents if they were near the ocean at midnight, would be swept out to sea in her ocean of tears and drown like her husband.”
I smirked at them. “Yeah right. Have they tested this mythical legend?”
“Yeah,” Peggy said, wide-eyed. “Two of Adam’s descendents have drowned at sea after midnight.”
“Really?” I frowned trying to read from their faces if they were having me on. “This is too weird. You’re freaking me out.”
“It’s just a myth,” Harry shrugged, “an old wives’ tale as Mum calls it.”
“But it scares Adam enough that he won’t test it?” I asked.
“I wonder if that’s why his parents move all the time? Not tempting fate maybe,” Peggy said.
“What if he’s out after midnight and goes nowhere near the ocean?” I asked.
Holly looked around. “Nearly everywhere around here is near the ocean. If you want my advice, just don’t agree to any midnight beach walks with him!”
I couldn’t concentrate all afternoon in class, I had to see Adam. I hoped he was okay. Luckily Peggy and I had history for the last two classes and we could use the time for our projects since my concentration was shot. I hit the library to begin my shipwreck research for the history project. I went online, gathered all I could on the shipwreck history of the area, the shipwreck trail and some reference points where I could look at original news clippings.
I felt his presence before I saw him; Chayse Johann dropped down into the seat next to me. He glowed with strength, like he stored the sun when surfing.
“Ophelia,” he smiled.
“Hi Chayse,” I looked around, he was alone. “No harem?”
He grinned and had the good grace to look a bit embarrassed. “They’re my friends actually.”
“Oh, sorry, my mistake,” I teased him. I studied his face. Adam did land a few blows—Chayse was bruised above his eye and his nose was swollen slightly. There was a cut on his left cheek.
“What happened to you?” I asked, knowing full well.
He reached up and touched the bruise above his eye. “Ah, nothing, just a friendly fight.”
I nodded. “Does it hurt?”
He shrugged. “A little. But he’s hurting more,” he smiled.
Chayse realised he was losing out on the sympathy.
“Oh don’t worry, he held his own. Got me a good one in the ribs,” he rubbed them. “Couldn’t breathe for a moment there.”
I sat back and turned slightly to face him. He was gorgeous, I could see why Holly got tongue-tied around him. I bet he’d had a charmed life so far.
“Can you tell me your shipwreck story, if you have time now?” I asked.
“Now? Sure,” he leaned back and flashed a smile at me. “Once upon a time on a dark and stormy night ...”
I laughed. “Can I have the real version, not the fairytale?”
“Oh, right, the real version, okay,” he pulled his chair closer to mine. I hoped his girlfriend didn’t come by now, I would be on the death watch list. I leaned back away from him and he got the hint and backed off a bit.
“The year was 1905 and my great, great, great grandfather, Pierre, that’s three greats right?” he asked.
“Three greats, I’m paying attention,” I said. “Pierre, huh?”
“Yes, Pierre,” he said with a French accent and rewarded me with his smile again and carried on. “He was on a ship called La Bella. It had been in New Zealand where it was loaded up with timber. It was coming into Warrnambool which is dangerous at the best of times, but in 1905 with less technology to guide you, it was notorious. The seas were really heavy and there was the usual mist, you’ve seen it?”
“Thick as soup sometimes,” I agreed.
“Imagine sailing blind in that?” Chayse shook his head. He was more interesting when he got over himself and was just real. “The captain got confused and the La Bella ran aground. It’s called La Bella Reef now, the area where it ran aground. I’ll show you some time if you like.”
“Sure,” I said, keeping it short. I didn’t want to interrupt the story.
“Anyway, the Warrnambool Harbour Master, his name was Captain Roe, seeing the La Bella was in distress, grabbed four lifesavers and they rowed out to help but they couldn’t get near her because the waves were too huge. The La Bella crew lashed themselves to the port rails waiting for the lifeboat and hoping they wouldn’t get washed out to sea.”
Goosebumps raced up my arms. Chayse noticed and rubbed his hand over my arm, which just gave me more goose bumps.
“Must have been so frightening,” I stuttered, trying to concentrate on his words and not his actions.
“Especially knowing you couldn’t swim, not many of them could in those days,” he said. “It was pretty wild out there and my ancestor Pierre, and two of the other men were the first to go. They were washed overboard around midnight. Another two died from exposure not long after but they were strapped to the ship, so the ropes kept them in place until about two in the morning when they were washed away. When the lifeboat finally reached the La Bella they rescued three of the crew. A local fisherman rowed his dinghy out and saved a few others. Another of the two sailors drowned trying to get to the lifeboat. Seven died, five survived.”
I nodded. I had read a bit already and knew the basics of the story. Chayse didn’t mention that the fisherman was Adam Ferrier’s ancestor and couldn’t swim or that he was incredibly brave to even go out in that wild ocean and risk being capsized himself.
Chayse drew a deep breath. “Finally, the La Bella was hit by a huge wave and the ship crashed down on the reef and broke up. The captain was later found guilty of careless navigation and he was suspended for twelve months. Got off lightly I’d say.”
“Wow,” I realised I had been holding my breath. “Is it weird to live near where the ship sunk, where Pierre drowned?”
“It’s not weird ... but it’s kind of ...” he searched for words, “it’s sobering I guess. They say Pierre’s wife used to walk the beach until the end of her days. She’d talk aloud as though he was walking beside her. But I think it is sad that the town doesn’t acknowledge everyone who lost their lives at sea here. They’re going to be here forever more if you know what I mean?” He ran a hand over his mouth as though he was worried what he said was too poetic for his image.
My heart swelled for Chayse; it was nice to see a side of him that wasn’t all about being flashy.
He coughed and lowered his voice. “Sorry I get a bit carried away by this.”
“It’s in your blood,” I said.
“Our blood has been boiling for generations,” he almost hissed the words.
“So do something about it,” I suggested. “Or am I overstepping the mark there?” I bit my lip waiting for an angry reaction. Instead his eyes narrowed as he looked at me.
He nodded and rose. “Gotta’ go, Ophelia, catch you around.”
“Thanks for sharing the ...” he was gone, “... story.”