Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Queen

Chapter One 

Well Cole Masterson, you’re in for the adventure of your life I murmured to myself as my taxi travelled south down the 710 Freeway through the midafternoon traffic toward the Queen Mary. Now I’d be able to solve the family mystery regarding my great-grandfather, the gold locket, and Hanna. Who was Hanna? By the end of this mission I hoped to know. Palm trees, sunshine and sandy beaches, everything that makes Southern California a haven to those who come to play. For me playing is the last thing on my mind. Ghost hunting occupies it more times than not, and the Queen Mary is the perfect spot to exercise those inclinations and thoughts.

Turning onto Queens Highway—formerly Pier J—at the south end of the Long Beach Freeway, the world’s once largest transatlantic vessel, loomed in front of me. I knew she’d be large, but I never imagined the magnitude of her presence. It was as if I could feel the past calling to me. Climbing out of the taxi, I felt dwarfed by her shadow, and more intrigued than I wanted to admit being a skeptic.

I handed over my bags to the bell captain, and stepped into the elevator outside the ship. Once on A Deck, I slowly walked through the door and into another era. An era of 1930s glitz and glamour with a week’s worth of ocean as a backdrop. The floors gleamed and the shops glimmered with a long forgotten style. Okay, so we’re basically in dry dock—but we are surrounded by water and most of it the Pacific Ocean so it felt like I was about to sail away on a transatlantic adventure.

And, strangely, it felt like coming home as I boarded the ship I’d never stepped foot upon until this moment. A chill crept through me as a picture of those glamour years danced before my eyes and the iconic Titanic flitted through my mind; minus the sinking into freezing cold water of course. I was entering another world and I felt it down to my bones. I walked over to check in, sure the chill was anything but déjà vu. The smarmy desk clerk beamed at me no doubt glad of the publicity I might bring to this floating hotel.

“Welcome aboard the Queen Mary, Mr. Masterson. We’ve worked hard to meet all your requirements, including making sure the other guests will not interfere with your investigation. You’ll be staying starboard side in room A105.” He handed me the keycard, then pointed toward a hallway just past a small lounge. “Enjoy your stay with us.”

“Thank you.” I gathered my bags then walked the short distance to the room. Pausing for a moment at the small hallway entrance to the room door, I gazed in awe of the mile long corridor disappearing into infinity.

At that moment of anticipation a delicate shadow caught the corner of my eye and I smiled. “And so it begins,” I muttered, swiping the keycard. I opened the door and stepped into a long narrow room. Nothing paranormal in nature jumped out to greet me. Two twin beds lined the wall to the right with a small round table and lamp sitting between the foot of each of them. A television stand sat directly across from the table, leaving barely enough room for one person to pass by.

It was pretty much what I expected. Yes, my room was a bit meager than the first class accommodations I could have stayed in. But it was exactly what I wanted, simple and cozy affording me the quiet I needed to work.

“Alrighty then, good thing I opted to room alone after all.”

Tossing my bags on the far bed, I unpacked for the next week or two. Taking the digital camera out of its protective casing, I checked the lens and the amount of space left on the SD card. A quick glance into the bag holding the 35mm affirmed my supply of black and white film was up to par.

When G.H.O.S.T. received a call to investigate the Queen Mary, there was no way I could turn down a chance to disprove the ghost stories surrounding one of the most historic hotels in the country. The entire purpose of this requested investigation was to find a rationale reason for what people thought they saw along the ship’s hallways, in pictures, or at pianos. Nine times out of ten, a camera will pick up dust particles in the air that seem to suggest spirits moving around. With the ship’s history of service during World War II, I hated to disprove the theory of the ship being haunted, but it was part of my job and I’d perform it to the best of my ability.

This assignment has become two-fold and personal. Not only would I be able to do what I loved—dissecting hauntings—but now I’ll also be able to find out if in fact the stories about my great-grandfather were true, and not the ramblings of a lonely physician treating the wounded during World War II.

According to the tattered journal packed safely between my socks and underwear, my great-grandfather Dr. William Masterson fell in love with an English nurse while caring for the wounded aboard this ship called The Grey Ghost during the Second World War. My great-grandfather went on leave promising to return for the young lady the next time The Ghost came into port.

Upon the ship’s return, William found the nurse was gone. Instead, he’d been met by the ship’s commanding officer and given a small pouch housing a gold locket. He’d recognized his beloved’s locket on sight because it contained precious pictures of them and his heart had broken. The commanding officer told him, Hanna Amery had died of influenza on their return voyage from Sydney, Australia and been buried at sea. As she lay dying, he’d promised her to deliver the package to Dr. Masterson upon the troopship’s return to the States.

After seeing the beauty of the lobby with its art deco and highly polished woods, it was hard for me to believe this luxury ocean liner had ever been a troopship, let alone that great-grandfather was ever aboard her. A ship regarded so highly by Hitler that he’d placed a bounty on her. The first U-Boat commander who sunk The Grey Ghost would receive two hundred fifty thousand dollars plus instantly become a hero. Fortunately, the Ghost’s propellers were so loud the special sonar equipment on the enemy’s U-boats was useless. If not for that, The Grey Ghost and her eight hundred thousand soldiers would have perished in the seas, and I wouldn’t be aboard now spending the next few weeks investigating every nook and cranny.

I hung up the last of my clothes and waited for the ship to quiet down for the night before starting my investigation. The rest of my team wasn’t expected to arrive for another twenty-four hours. I’d delayed their trip not wanting the legend of the haunts to override the reality of their causes. Plus, it gave me a chance to do some digging into the ship’s history, and my great-grandfather’s role aboard ship during war time.

Glancing at my watch, I was surprised by the late hour. The lobby piano had been silent for some time, but obviously I’d been lost in my own thoughts to take notice. Now, if the rest of the ship was the same I’ll be able to start investigating without the interruption of the overnight guests. One of the reports was a woman heard the laughter of children coming from the display of the First Class Playroom while on one of the guided tours. Another was the sound of shuffling feet in the Isolation Ward, followed by screaming. The Isolation Ward was one of the exhibits in its original location; so many others had been moved and relocated to the exhibit halls.

I gathered up my camera equipment, headed out the stateroom door into the hallway. With a black bag containing video equipment slung over my shoulder and my great-grandfather’s locket in a pocket, I headed for the Promenade Deck.

I strolled through the lobby then down the portside hall. The weight of my 35mm camera slung over a shoulder, I turned the voice activated digital  recorder on then spoke into it.

“Cole Masterson, portside hall, A Deck, Queen Mary, approximately 1:30 am.” I continued down the never-ending corridor, passing doors closed tightly for the night. Other than an occasionally late night television show penetrating the silence, all was peaceful…and a bit eerie even for me. I made sure my footsteps fell light so as not to disturb any of the other hotel guests. Not that I have a heavy step, I don’t, I just wanted to be sure everyone stayed where they were and out of my hair. For some reason, I have a knack of attracting people inquisitive about ghost hunting techniques. I’m only too happy people want to know, but their questions always came in the middle of an investigation.

I reached the end of the hall and stood at the stern. Again I brought the handheld close to my mouth. “I’ve completed the walk down the hall between the outside staterooms and the inside rooms from bow to stern. Nothing appears out of the ordinary.” I spoke clearly, then stepped into a small elevator and pushed the button for the Promenade Deck. The shops are closed at this time of night so no one should be wandering about, but I have an overwhelming feeling to get out into some fresh air as if being crowded. The unusual need to smell the brisk ocean air and watch its inky blackness stretch further into the night past the Long Beach port of call for Carnival cruise ships is overwhelming.

My blood rushed through my veins like liquid silver as the small compartment takes me slowly up two deck levels. Sucking in a breath to calm my nerves, confusion began to cloud my mind as my head swam.

Why would a simple elevator ride unnerve me like this? This is so not professional but I can’t deny it. Damn, all I want is a breath of fresh air and to check out a good place to settle in for an hour or so. Just me and the ship—that’s all I want.

The doors slid open, and I surged forward trying to get away from whatever bad vibes were haunting me and jerked to a halt brought up short by a slight, but noticeable, tug on my camera strap. What the hell? It was as if it was caught on a hinge but looking back I see that that’s not so. I’m completely alone and unfettered. Damn it all this is weird even for me. On that thought I literally charged out of the elevator as a shiver ran through me. Standing and trembling outside the Royal Salon, looking around I glanced over my shoulder hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever, or whoever, wanted my attention but came up empty. Oh well.

I’m well used to this kind of thing happening on an investigation until I get settled into the rhythm of the site, which was why I always went in a few days earlier than the crew. I’m continuously jittery and on edge at first—I keep telling myself it is the rush of the hunt. Maybe one day I’ll actually believe it. Tonight was not the night though; this feeling was totally different, this was feeling personal. Hanna’s ghost?

I’m here to get to the bottom of my great-grandfather’s journal and the locket that had been found among his World War II belongings packed away in the attic. Granny had said that old chest held secrets of a war well left dead and buried as far as she was concerned. She’d hated the pain reflected in her father’s eyes each time he’d gone to the attic and tore through the chest. She’d always found him slumped against it with his war journal spread out in front of him, an opened tarnished locket in his hand, and tears streaming down his face mumbling something about the war and The Gray Ghost and someone named, Hanna. Granny always presumed it was the young woman in the locket, but no one knew for sure—not even great-grandmother.

Faint sounds of voices and music jumble me out of these memories as I stepped from the glitz of what was once the first class area onto the deck. There must be a late night party going on in the ship docked at the Carnival port, but why would they be playing Big Band music unless it’s a themed cruise. I listened a bit closer but the musical notes dissipated, so I stepped out onto the deck.

The lights cast a yellow glow onto the polished planks and lit my way as I rounded the corner from port to starboard side. Pausing at the stern, I looked out into the bay and tried to imagine what it may have been like for my great-grandfather during those days of war…but can’t.

* * * *

He’s come for you at last, Hanna. Bill, my Bill. Here aboard the ship? Reluctantly, Hanna Amery keeps her distance from him, fading into the background, yet wanting so badly to touch the man she had given her heart to. Admittedly, he looked a bit different now, his ebony skin now a light milk chocolate, his once thin body more muscular but she could feel Bill’s spirit inside him. She aches to reach out and let him know she was there waiting for him like she’d promised. From the moment he’d walked out onto the deck heading toward the Isolation Ward she’d felt his presence. His spirit felt as strong today as it was seventy years ago when they first met, and it called to her bringing her back to the present.

The man she loved, here aboard ship in the spot where they’d declared their forbidden love. She, from a white family and he an African American man. The spot where they’d said their true love vows to God and their shipmates. It shouldn’t be possible yet here he was. Didn’t the captain tell him she’d died from influenza trying to heal the sick and wounded on that final trip during the war?

She’d thought for sure he’d feel her near him as he stepped onto the deck but he walked right by her and her heart broke. Still, she couldn’t help noting that he was alone, no wife in tow at all and it gave her hope. Her mind spun in a thousand different directions!

Why oh why doesn’t he know I’m here waiting for him?

Hanna continued to watch him, close enough to touch him but not daring to. If only he’d turn around and really see her things would be alright. When he finally stopped staring out into the bay her heart leapt. Had he felt her? Then he looked right at her and she smiled rejoicing but he seemed to look through her. Oh no. He headed down into the Isolation Ward. Hanna was a ghost. He would never see her. She had to accept that.

~~ Will Cole and Hanna find each other? ~~

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Alicia Dean said...

NICE! Love the pics and the excerpt. I'm almost finished with the book, and it's wonderful!

Maxine Douglas said...

Hi Alicia,

Wonderful .. I'm happy you are enjoying THE QUEEN!

Hugs ~~