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The Grey Ghost
I love California and the Queen Mary ship, my favorite urban ledgend was Jackie and the poolroom.
Even in the tight fancy elevator, Will Caan could hear the bells and horns of the parading stilted men, walking around spreading American spirit to the hotel guests. Will was staying overnight in one of the most beautiful hotels in all of the United States of America. The Queen Mary had once been a large passenger ship, but was retired and sold. It was now a hotel in the heart of Long Beach, CA. Will, despite living there for several years, never had the joy of experiencing the seaside hotel experience. With all the work he had to do as a roller coaster architect, he had little time to explore his city for more than a day. This week was different.
The 4th of July is normally busy for theme parks, but they need all the fixes and the new attractions before then. This gave Will all Independance week to mess around. And the first thing that came to mind was the Queen Mary. But there was another reason Will wanted to see the titanic beauty of a ship. It wasn’t just because of the legendary firework show, or the fancy food, or even the port-hole windows of every room. It was because Will was terrified of ghosts. For his whole life, this phobia had gotten in the way of all kinds of things he wished he could do. He was too paranoid to watch horror movies with the few buddies he did have. He couldn't bear to visit any of his dead relatives at the local cemetery. And worst of all, he couldn't walk around at night. For fear of a dead person slamming a door, or sliding a chair, or beckoning from the dark. Will had heard the rumors.
The tales of children, waiters, captains, and anyone else that died on the ship during its sailing days. His doctor had taught him about something she called “exposure therapy”. It was the idea that facing your fears and living among them, could allow you to build up a tolerance for the things you run from. She told him to watch Poltergeist, or read The Turn Of The Screw, or even walk through the cemetery every day. Will had run from this, until he had enough. Will was on a date with a woman he just met, and was desperately trying to play it cool. But to everyone else, being single and 38 is not cool. As the woman ate her spaghetti, and Will his ravioli, the power went out. He tried to stay put. He shut his eyes and clenched his teeth and tried to ignore the dull hum of voices beginning to escalate to concern. But his fault got the better of him. He rapidly excused himself and rushed out of the restaurant. As the elevator reached the floor that he needed to be on, Will remembered how lonely his phobia made him. How it ruined his life time and time again. As Will stepped out onto the intricate carpeting of the hall, he remembered that it was time to get his life back together, and stepped into the ghost tour room.
Will stared at the people in the room, mouth practically agape. There were so many people. Why would anyone willingly do something like this? Will thought to himself. He found a chair and aligned it with the others. A man stepped up to the front of the room. He introduced himself as Jerry. Will leaned in closer as Jerry began to speak. He talked about how back in it’s sailing days, the ship was referred to as the “Grey Ghost” because of its speed. He talked about what they would be doing, where they would be going, and who they might be seeing throughout the night. Will began to pale, as he listened intently, teeth clenched. Jerry finished his speech and began to lead people out of the room, towards the next location. Will let out a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding in. I could exit the room now. I could exit now and nobody would even notice, he told himself, but he pushed away to follow the crowd at least a little longer.
They entered a room with a rusted watertight door, marked Door 13. “This is the exact door that a 18 year old member of the crew was brutally crushed in back in the ship's sailing days. He was simply trying to stop the ship from sinking but-” Will’s head was swimming with thoughts of what it must have felt like. To have all the air and life slowly pushed out of you, with no way to stop it. He tried not to think about how angry someone who died that way would be if they were doomed to haunt that door for eternity. Next they walked to the Queen’s Salon, the ship's old first class lounge. Jerry explained that people have witnessed a woman in a white dress dancing gleefully to 1930’s music playing mysteriously. Will felt himself shivering even though it was the middle of summer. The dead of summer. As Jerry led the group to the next destination, he couldn't help feeling that we were walking into a different time period. The carpets and the paintings just transported Will back into a better, or sometimes worse, time. They passed through a children’s playroom all glassed off, and Jerry explained that an infant died in that room shortly after birth. According to guests, they still hear his cries to this day.
As Will passed through the maze that was the hotel, he heard stories of knocking and slamming and crying and screaming. But Will wasn’t satisfied. The exposure was not working. He needed to do something drastic. He asked Jerry if they could go to the most haunted room in the hotel. Jerry said that guests were inhabiting the room at the time. Will exhaled a sigh of frustration. Jerry interrupted Will’s train of thought as he announced that this location would be the last. Will was annoyed. Why couldn't it be longer? He thought. This is my only chance. Why can't it be longer? Again, Will’s thought was interrupted. But this time, Jerry was silent. Something else had captured his attention.
Will was staring at the large, closed off, empty pool room of the ship. It must have been years since it was last used. Paint cracked along the sides of the pit like ever-growing spider webs. Jerry talked about how they hadn't bothered to fix it up because of all the history, but Will wasn’t listening. He felt something… wrong. He wasn’t scared, or sad, or excited, or mad. He felt peace, but suppressed under that feeling was a voice screaming at him. GET OUT NOW, it pleaded. But Will understood that voice. It was his fear. His overpowering life-ruining phobia. “A cheery girl named Jackie drowned in this pool when it was still active,” Jerry explained. “People say they still hear her wandering around the room, looking for her mother.” “They say they can hear her singing echo through the halls of the hotel to this day.” Will walked closer to the glass as Jerry’s voice drowned out to a muffled mumbling. He could feel pain and suffering emanating from the room. He was terrified, but he ignored it. Will lifted his hand and softly set it on the windowpane. The window immediately shattered, knocking an upset Jerry back into Will’s mind.
“This place is a historical landmark. And it's the 4th of July for god's sake!” Jerry spoke harshly.
“No. Touching. Anything.”
“I- I’m sorry” Will stuttered, shocked by the weakness of the glass.
“I’ll get a janitor to clean it up after the firework show,” Jerry sighed, shaking his head. He began to lead everyone back to their room. Right down the hall was Will’s. Jerry glared at him and said in a gravely tone
“Thank you for joining us on the Grey Ghost Haunting tour. Come back soon”. The group left, and Will shut his door. He slumped down on his scratchy bed. It was 11:00, and he was already super tired. As he tried to fall asleep, he heard something. A high pitched humming, coming from out in the hall. Will pulled his pillow over his head and hoped that whoevers child that was running amuck would settle down. But that never happened. Will began to pick his nail off bit by bit. What if it was the baby that died in the playroom? Or the lady in the white dress? He began to pull his quilt closer to his face. Will then realized how stupid he must look. He remembered why he was there in the first place. Will got up and slid on his flip flops. He opened the door and was shocked by how much darker it was without Jerry’s flashlight. The dim lanterns that lined the halls gave off an orange glow that led Will to the source of the sound. The pool room. He touched his shaking hands with each other, until they settled. The song became louder and louder as Will got closer and closer. He reached the window, and reached inside. He found the latch, and unlocked it. He heard hurt in the song. It pleaded out for something, someone. Will stepped into the pool room, and silenced his fear as much as he could. I’m doing this for my own good He reminded himself. He heard the singing stop, and looked up to the stairs. Will felt the breath leave him. Standing on the steps down to the pool was a little girl.
“Jackie” He tried to say, but his voice was dry. Jackie nodded her head. Will tried to run to the door, but the girl called for him to stop. Something in her voice made him freeze in his tracks. She sounded like he did when he lost everything to his dumb fear. She sounded desperate. Will turned around to look at her. Jackie didn’t look like a ghost. She had medium sized brown hair and dull gray cheeks. No, Will realized. She doesn’t look dead. She looks depressed.
“Please help me, I need to find my mom” Jackie pleaded. Will wanted to leave, but he understood how she felt. Lonely.
“My name is Mr. Caan,” Will said to the girl as he tried to suppress his fear, “and I am going to help you find your mother”.
The dirty old pool room didn’t seem as old and dark as it had been before as he said that. The pool was filled with water, and the tiles were squeaky clean. As he pulled out his phone, he tried to comprehend the fact that he had spoken to a dead child. He was so shocked it felt almost natural. Will searched up “Jackie Queen Mary ship 1930”. There were so many results, but finally he found what he was looking for. The headline of an old newspaper article: “Mother of child who drowned on the Queen Mary kills herself 2 months later”. Will’s head filled with images of Jackie’s mom, sobbing on the edge of a ship. He shook his head before he was scarred by the blood swirling the water.
“She didn’t die on the ship” Will muttered under his breath. His brain scrambled to all the ghosts on the Queen Mary. What if somehow, they were not able to leave. What if somehow, if you died on the ship, you were trapped there. Will turned back to Jackie.
“Please sir, I need to find her. And my friend in the playroom needs to find his parents too. Also the overall boy by Door 13.” Will, to his surprise, calmed the upset girl down.
“Are you able to leave the ship?” he asked curiously.
“I can’t even leave this room,” Jackie said. She sounded so desperate, and Will’s brain rapidly tried to think of a way to get her out. But then again, she was a ghost. His fight or flight was screaming.
“Fire!” She cried randomly. “Fire purges everything. That's what my mom used to say. You need to burn down this room.” Will stared at her with wide eyes.
“Listen,” he said, thinking of what Jerry said when he broke the glass. “I know you are in pain, but this place is a part of our country's evolution. It would be like damaging a museum”. A sad look in Jackie’s eyes told Will she understood. She began to cry. Will knew how she felt. He knew that she would do anything to join her mom in whatever comes after death. Death. Will suddenly snapped out of his shocked state, and began to feel dizzy. He was standing next to a real ghost.
“I’m sorry, I c-can’t do this” Will apologized to the girl, who began sobbing softly. She can’t be real. She can’t be real, He told himself as he stood up, and began to speed walk out of the room. As he abandoned the child, the water evaporated from the pool and the grimey cracks began to creep up the sides of the room rapidly. He felt bad, but he needed to get away from her. What if she ate him? Or cut his head off? What if he was going crazy? Seeing things? Will reached the door, and turned around to make sure Jackie hadn’t followed him. She was gone. He grabbed the door handle, when a high pitched scream filled his ears. Will felt the air around the room begin to swirl into a frenzied hurricane. He tried to scream but the air was gone from his lungs. He struggled to breathe and tried to run away, but fell into the empty pool. A sharp crack rang out, a small pool of blood began to spill onto the dusty tiles, and everything went dark.
Jackie skipped down the long hallway humming to herself. She arrived at the lobby gift shop, and bought a small pocket lighter. The cashier didn’t question why someone her age was buying a lighter. She didn’t even seem phased at all. Jackie waltzed outside onto the deck of the ship, letting the fresh air sting Will’s eyes. She located the fireworks for the midnight celebration. The guard tried to stop her, but she screamed and he flew backwards, slamming into the rail. He began to drag himself away slowly using his unshattered arm, opening his mouth to shout. Jackie effortlessly twisted his head around, a wave of crimson splashing onto Will’s semi-formal jacket. She grabbed the gasoline by the fireworks, and poured it over the case. Jackie pulled it slowly but surely back to the pool room, dripping gasoline along the way. She arrived at the doorway, and tossed the lit lighter onto the box. Jackie slowly strided away, and continued to hum to herself as the ship caught fire behind her. The screams of unsuspecting guests rang through the air, and were cut short as people began to choke on the thick billowing smoke. The fireworks tore apart the roof and the windows shattered and melted as she stood on the edge of the railing. Jackie stared down at the waves crashing on the rocks below. “I’m so close mom.” She muttered to herself. The Grey Ghost began to sink behind her as she thrust Will’s body off the ship, down to her watery grave once again.