The Ghosts of Long Island

by Sue K

 

 

 


Captain Lee Crane sat in front of his tent listening to the early morning wilderness sounds that had erupted around the campground an hour before the true sunrise. Squirrels chattered overhead, seeming to vie with a variety of bird species for auditory supremacy. The late October air was crisp and he shivered, but he didn’t look for his jacket. Despite the chill, Lee was perfectly happy to sit and take in the peaceful moment before the sun rose.

So far, it had been a most glorious leave. After several harrowing back-to-back missions, this respite was well deserved. And it was the perfect opportunity to spend time with Meeka, the Tirean girl he and Chip had rescued from her repressive country. Right after their escape, the twelve-year-old orphan had asked Lee to be her father, but that hadn’t been legally possible. The courts, in an unusual ruling, however, had allowed a joint foster parenthood for the child. Lee shared custody with one of the Seaview’s crewmen and his wife. Meeka was now thirteen, had been in the states for ten months, and Lee finally had some time to spend with her.

He and Meeka had flown to Oklahoma City where he rented a pick-up truck and some camping equipment. He was not an avid camper, but Meeka’s heart had been set on it ever since she had camped overnight in the desert with Seaman Brody’s family. Lee grinned. The past several nights were a far cry from camping in California. And it wasn’t just camping, either. Meeka had an insatiable curiosity about anything American. Indians fascinated her. They had spent half a day in the Cowboy Hall of Fame and another half a day visiting the capital of an eastern Oklahoma Indian tribe.

The final destination of the trip was Washington, D.C. where Crane would be attending a scientific convention with the admiral, so while he enjoyed the side excursions, it was often late in the evening when they finally stopped for the night. They were getting quite good at pitching tents in the dark.

At first, Lee had been a bit reticent when the admiral had suggested the trip with Meeka. There had been so little time to spend with the girl who considered him her father these past months that he had felt guilty, as though he had abandoned her. But he had to admit; it had been a wonderful three days. Lee had enjoyed watching Meeka simply enjoy herself. Now they were in Natchez Trace State Park. It truly amazed him and had totally entranced Meeka. By her own admission, she had never seen such a profusion of fall colors.

The sun sparkled through the dew-dampened leaves and he heard a click. With a grin, he turned to the dark-eyed girl with the ever-present camera in her hand. “You’re going to have to let me have that thing for a while so I can take your picture,” he quipped. In so many ways, this was a mature adult in the guise of a young teenager, but Meeka still had a wide-eyed optimism and innocence that one saw in children. She still found deep pleasure in her sudden change of fortune and circumstances even though almost a year had passed since she had first set foot on American soil. On the other hand, Lee was continually amazed at how well she had acclimated to her new surroundings.

“Oh, no, I am not as . . . looking good in a photograph,” she protested.

“Nonsense!” he retorted good-naturedly. “You are very charming in photographs. And the word is photogenic.”

She laughed. “Where is this Natchez Trace that this park is named after?” she asked, changing the subject deftly. She really did feel uncomfortable having her picture taken.

“A few miles from here, Meeka. We can stop and see what we can of it after breakfast.”

She was already rummaging in the back of the pickup. “Vadeer,” she said in Tirean. It was the only way Meeka was able to call Lee ‘father’ without him feeling totally self-conscious. For some reason, which she couldn’t fathom, he didn’t seem to feel he was a father. This had hurt her at first, but then Chip Morton had taken her aside and explained that Lee felt that he had let her down, not being around as much as a real father should. As far as Meeka was concerned, Lee Crane had stepped into the role when she had needed him the most and that was that. “Where is the bacon?”

“In the cooler,” came his quick response.

While she gathered the breakfast supplies, he gathered wood and began preparing a fire in the cooking pit provided with the campsite. When she had the food laid out, she glanced around her at the forest. It was like Tirean forests and yet, unlike them. It was beautiful--certainly much different from the desert camp experience with Steve and Karla Brody.

“Tonight we should be in Virginia,” Lee said as he moved back from a small, but fully engaged fire. He set the grate back on and a large frying pan on top of that.

“And I will have to do some homework,” Meeka said glumly, as she tossed the bacon in the pan. While most of her time on this trip straddled a school vacation, she had missed a day already and would miss a couple more before they flew home the following week.

Lee laughed heartily. “Been there and done that,” he said. “Tell you what; tonight we’ll find a nice hotel and I’ll help you with it.”

She nodded. It would be difficult to do her work by a campfire. After breakfast, they packed up and headed for the site where the old Natchez Trace had passed on the way toward Nashville.

“Back in those days there were no roads, only trails in the wilderness,” Lee said, knitting his brows as though trying to remember the facts. “It had its starting point back in Natchez, Mississippi, a then thriving city on the Mississippi River.”

“So people would travel on boats and then use the trail to go inland,” Meeka ventured.

He nodded. “Exactly. This road was a much quicker and safer means of traveling to middle Tennessee than a few wilderness paths were.” He gazed at the grass-overgrown site of old wagon wheel tracks and his eyes grew distant. Suddenly, he shuddered slightly and drew in a quick, surprised breath.

“Vadeer! Are you all right?” Meeka asked in alarm. It seemed as though his face had grown paler for a moment.

He shook his head as though clearing it and smiled softly. “I’m fine,” he assured her. “Did you know there were bandits along this road?” She shook her head in the negative. He went on. “Some of them were so violent that the lawmen sometimes patrolled sections of the trace to protect travelers.”

She shook her head again. “That’s terrible. But there are similar things in Tirean history.” She noticed the lingering hint of worry in his eyes and wondered what caused it, but didn’t press further.

Near the end of the day, they reached Kingsport, Tennessee, near the Virginia state line. Lee quickly found a downtown hotel and booked a larger suite. In the remaining daylight, they walked along the Holston River, Meeka reading aloud from a locally produced magazine about the history of the area.

“Oh, Vadeer, this place tells about the Indians that lived here,” she exclaimed, pointing to a map. It’s not far. Can we see it before it gets dark?”

Lee looked at her map. “You’re right, it’s only a couple of blocks away.” He peered closer. “Am I reading that right? Long Island?”

Meeka looked slightly puzzled, then she understood. “Oh, like the one in New York City.”

He nodded. “Yes, I wonder how it got that name? Let’s go check it out. Then we’ll have a quick dinner and work on your homework before we hit the sack. We’ll want to get to DC before rush hour.”

Meeka groaned, but quickened her pace, excited to find out more about Indians. They fascinated her. Soon they had crossed to the island and were watching the river pass by on both sides. A plaque stood among frost-touched shrubbery in a pleasant park. Meeka walked up and began reading. “This was a special site for the Cherokee,” she told him, excited, then she read verbatim. “….a sacred place where councils were held and where peace reigned. No matter what was happening anywhere else, on this island no fighting was allowed.” She looked up and saw the same tense look on Lee’s face that she had seen earlier in the day. “What’s wrong, Vadeer?”

“What else does it say?” he asked tersely, not looking directly at her.

Alarmed, she nevertheless turned back to the plaque and continued reading, stumbling over a few of the words. “In July, 1777, the British and Indians met to parlay the forfeiture of lands.” She was puzzled. “What’s parlay and forfeiture?”

“Parlay is to bargain and forfeiture means to give up. The Cherokee were forced to give the British some of their lands. This island was part of it, right?” he asked, now gazing directly into her eyes.

A touch of cool breeze ruffled the ends of her long, dark hair. It felt as though someone was behind them and she had to repress the desire to turn and look. “Yes,” she read further. “This island was handed over to the British at the conclusion of the negotiations. It is said that one of the Cherokee medicine men, in his anger, cursed this island, saying that no white man could ever live here in peace.” She glanced at Lee and saw that he had regained his composure for the most part, but his eyes still seemed to hold some past fear. It frightened her to think that he feared anything, but she continued reading. “There are stories of murderous ghosts terrorizing the unsuspecting, of ghostly campfires winking on and off and the sounds of past gun battles late at night.” She studied her foster father closely. “Vadeer, what is wrong?” she begged, when he said nothing at the end of her recitation.

He just shook his head. “Let’s get out of here.”

Meeka gave a soft sigh. The sun would soon set and it was getting chilly. Suddenly, she felt as though cold fingers had glided down her neck and she shuddered.

“Are you cold?” he asked, concern in his voice.

That had to have been it. “Yes, it’s getting much cooler.”

He pulled off his jacket and slipped it on her. “Better?”

“Oh, yes!” They walked together to the footbridge and started across. “Do you believe in ghosts?” she asked. “Father Vincent said most of the stories were made up. He said there were no such things as ghosts like the storytellers talk about.”

“Father Vincent was wrong,” Lee replied quickly and then fell silent.

“Have you seen one?”

His steps faltered slightly, then he continued. “Yes,” he answered softly. That was all he intended to say on the subject. Krueger was gone--in the past, but he still seemed to haunt Lee’s present. Standing in this place reminded him of the helplessness and fear he had felt each time Krueger had entered his body. He had even felt a touch of that while in the state park this morning, but that had been fleeting. This was pervasive. Sucking in another deep breath, he determined to take control of his emotions.

“Can you tell me about it?” Meeka asked softly.

Lee shook his head. “Not now,” he murmured. As they left the island, the feeling dissipated. He could fully believe that the place had been cursed.

Dinner began quietly enough, but Lee determined to make it more pleasant and to forget the feelings he had experienced. “So what homework were you assigned?”

Meeka frowned and sighed. “Pre-algebra, history mainly.”

“I can help you with the algebra, I believe. What did the history teacher want you to do? And no language arts?”

She shook her head. “Not exactly. They were kind enough to combine their efforts. They wanted me to write about the places I visit, giving the history as well as the regular information like what it looks like and things like that. It has to be well written-all words right, and in the right order.”

Lee nodded and smiled. “Covering all the bases.” Meeka looked puzzled. He explained the idiom. “Taking care of everything. And science?”

Now she nodded. “I mainly have to read the materials I will miss. And give a brief . . . writing of the different types of land forms and . . . and….” She sighed in exasperation.

“Give a summary and I bet your teacher wants you to talk about the animals and plants in each of the different areas; their ecosystems.”

“Yes, those are the terms. Mr. Rector wanted me to give a brief report on the convention in Washington, D.C., too,” she added.

Lee looked taken aback. “I figured one of the admiral’s staffers would take you on a tour of the capital. The conference is a bit dry, uh, boring for most people; me included if the truth be known,” he said with a slightly sardonic look.

Meeka grinned. “Vadeer! You bored at a science conference?”

“Yes!” came the emphatic reply. “I’d rather be the staffer taking you around.” She smiled at his comment.

It was dark when they finished their meal. They went back to the hotel where Lee helped her with her algebra. He read the local paper while Meeka wrote down some of her thoughts about their trip thus far. Another hour and the girl began yawning.

“Hit the sack, Meeka. I’ll look over what you have written so far and make some editorial notes,” Lee told her. “I’ll probably go to bed in a bit, too.” But though he professed feeling tired, there was something keeping him keyed up and tense. It was like the times on the Seaview when he felt something was going to happen. Crane got up and walked to the window. He noted a light fog forming over the river; otherwise lights glittered cheerfully through the city. “I’m going for a walk before I go to bed,” he announced, walking back to the chair where his jacket lay draped across the back.

Meeka came out of her bedroom, already in her nightgown. Worry darkened her eyes. “Are you all right?” she asked.

He smiled his reassurance. “Are you my mother or daughter?” he asked jokingly. Apparently, she was still picking up on his earlier vibes. “Look, Meeka, I’m fine; just restless. It happens often on the boat.” He shrugged. “I just need to walk it off or it will be impossible for me to sleep.”

“Be careful, Vadeer,” she said softly. “It is dangerous on California streets.”

He nodded and smiled. “This is Tennessee, not California, but I will be back shortly.” He pulled on his flight jacket and stepped out.

In the lobby, the clerk threw him an off-handed glance. “Mind you watch yourself out there. Kids are off tomorrow. Teacher’s convention. Always the Friday before Halloween.”

“Thanks,” Crane said as he stepped out the door. The air was crisp as it had been the past few evenings. He breathed deeply. It wasn’t as fresh as it had been in the mountains, it was an old railroad town, after all, but still he enjoyed the tang of fall. It reminded him of his childhood. He walked briskly down to the river. Where the light fog drifted away, lights danced on the water. He heard firecrackers going off in the distance and wondered at the fact that even Halloween seemed a good excuse for fireworks here. Down near the island campfires winked on and off. Lee shivered, but it wasn’t really from the cold.

As he continued walking along the shore, he saw a few other people--a young couple and another man presumably resting after a run. Lee sat on a bench and felt the chill beneath his legs. Shots rang out, ghostly and distant. A wispy fog reached up with spectral fingers, seemingly caressing his sneakers. He was ready to go back to the hotel when he heard it. The laughter--echoing, hollow, evil, so reminiscent of what he had once heard in the past. A laugh he thought he would never hear again. It gripped his soul, turning his blood to ice. Then he heard the screams. Turning to the couple sitting on the riverbank, he saw that they were oblivious, locked in each other’s arms and passions. The screams continued. “Didn’t you hear that?” he asked the man sitting on the bench closer to the shore.

The man pulled off his Walkman. “Hear what?” he asked, looking at first startled at Lee’s presence and then annoyed at having been interrupted. The screams had drifted into loud moaning sounds.

“The screams and the moaning,” Lee replied. He was now on his feet.

“One of the resident spooks,” the man said nonchalantly. “Or a couple of kids making out in the bushes by the river.”

The moan escalated into another scream that was quickly bitten off and Crane began running toward the sound. He found himself crossing over the bridge onto the island and dashing through the fog to hedges on the other end. There he found a high school or college-aged man on top of an equally, if not younger, woman trying vainly to push him away.

“No, no!” she kept crying. “Please, no.”

Without a word, Lee grabbed the young man’s shirt and jerked him away. The young man looked startled, then, in anger, tried to hit him, but Lee was not to be stopped. A backhanded slap sent the assailant heavily to the ground. “Go home and grow up a little,” Lee snapped tersely, his wrath kindled.

The young man scuttled backward and stared at him, still angry. He had enough sense to not provoke the obviously stronger and more determined man, though. The girl, a petite African American girl, stared at him with large and frightened eyes.

“I won’t hurt you. Are you all right?” Lee unzipped his jacket, and as her eyes began to fill with panic, he handed it to her. In the attempted rape, her clothes had been badly ripped.

With great relief, she accepted his jacket and put it on. “Yes, sir, I . . . I think so.” Her voice was almost a whisper and he had to strain to hear her.

“Good. I can walk you to the police station, or to the hospital,” Lee suggested gently. “Make sure you get there safely.”

“No,” she said, her voice rising in her fear. “No, sir, I think I’d better go home.”

“You really need to report this,” Lee told her soothingly. He held out his hand to help her up. She gazed at him a moment and then looked over his shoulder and screamed.

It was then that Lee knew that the young man now smirking from his position on the ground wasn’t the only one on the island. He turned in a crouch but only enough to take the force of a club on his left shoulder instead of the back of his neck. Pain shot through his arm and into his chest as he was bowled to the ground. His arm, while not feeling as though it had been broken, went numb. Despite that, Lee quickly got to his feet. He had to, otherwise the monstrously huge attacker would finish what he had obviously tried to do the first time--kill him. At every bit of six and a half feet tall and about a hundred more pounds on him, he could easily do just that, Lee thought. And to his astonishment, the large man moved with lightning speed, belying his size and bulk.

With a growl, the giant leaped forward, brandishing a massive club, swinging it with a power that would make Babe Ruth jealous. Lee danced out of the way and then reached in and got him hard in the stomach with his fist. The man doubled slightly, coughed, but quickly recovered, laughing at him. It was an evil laugh, the one he had heard before, as though his attacker believed he was invincible and that nothing could hurt him.

It was then that Lee noticed his eyes in the moonlight. They had an unearthly, spectral glow, tinged with something behind them, as though there were two persons peering out of the dark eyes. And the captain knew what he was facing and knew where the attacker’s sense of invincibility came from. He was possessed, demon or ghost controlled. Just as he had been. Leaping back to stand by the girl, he grabbed her arm and turned her to face him. “I want you to get out of here while I keep him occupied. Go to the cops.”

“I can’t, please, I can’t.”

“Don’t you know what you’re facing here?” he shouted, still trying to keep the possessed man out of his reach. The girl was on her feet and moving back, too, as the man continued to stalk toward them, still laughing.

“Leon’s never been mean and nasty. He’s slow, but kind, nothing like this,” she said, her voice quavering almost to incomprehensibility.

“That’s his name?” Lee asked, trying to get something, anything that might help him against this monster. His smaller buddy, the one that Lee had pulled off the girl was following, brandishing a knife.

“Yes,” she said. “And the other one is Brandon. He’s the football captain.”

And therefore very desirable, thought Lee. Comparatively speaking, Brandon was good sized in his own right. Leon towered over all of them. “Well, right now, I’m not asking you to go to the police for yourself, but for whoever else these jokers might try to take out, including me. See that knife? Now get the hell out of here and get help. The man is possessed and I don’t know how long I can hold him and his buddy off,” he said forcefully, pushing her toward the bridge.

Brandon saw her move and dashed up to cut off her flight. Lee leaped toward them both and grabbed Brandon’s arm. He wrenched the knife from the boy’s hand and tossed it away, then turned and shoved Brandon in front of him as Leon came toward him again. The girl screamed shrilly and finally ran. Brandon literally bounced off Leon, whose momentum wasn‘t in the least affected.

Leon continued his bull‘s rush, his grin wider, the club back for another crushing blow. Brandon had disappeared and Lee worried about that. The club arced toward his head, but he managed to duck and dance out of the way. As he dashed past, he kicked out, his foot connecting with Leon’s knee. The larger man cried out more in anger than pain as he dropped to the ground before jumping back up again. Lee dashed up behind and punched and then kicked him just above the kidneys. Again there was little response and he had to hurriedly jerk out of the way when Leon swung his fist. There was no doubt about it; soon he would have to make a hasty retreat. The ghost-possessed man rushed him again, the club swinging and Lee sidestepped the worst of the blow. The end of the club skimmed him across the chest. There was enough force that he gasped in pain and was barely able to stumble out of reach of Leon’s hands.

Lights from across the river and a full moon high overhead caused shadows to dance and waver, confusing him while at the same time, helping him keep an eye on Leon. A light fog covered the ground and swirled around his feet, drifting here and there in the late night breeze. Lee wanted to shout at Leon, try to get him to fight whoever possessed him, but Lee knew it was useless. Just as his will had been swallowed up in Krueger’s, Leon’s was overwhelmed by whatever ghost was haunting this place. And the larger man’s strength had been increased dramatically. Crane took as deep a breath as he was capable of, and then jumped back. His attacker leaped forward, a feral grin on his face. Lee shifted gears and rushed toward Leon, hoping for surprise. His foot connected with Leon’s solar plexus and the huge man doubled over, his breath rushing out in a large whoosh.

Now was the time to get away, Lee thought. He punched Leon in the jaw and then sprinted toward the bridge, holding his side to control the pain that the bruised ribs were causing.

“Brandon!” Leon called. “Earn your reward!”

Something suddenly rose out of the mist and darkness and threw itself at Lee. It was Brandon. Before Lee could dodge, the boy had affected a football-like tackle on him, knife in his right hand. And as they fell, Crane felt the blade slide white-hot between his ribs and then out again. As Brandon rolled away, Lee suddenly felt dizzy, as though he had run out of air on a dive. He clamped his hand to the new wound, feeling air escape as he breathed. Angry at allowing himself to be so easily sidelined by the younger man, and realizing that he had no chance of getting away with two of them after him, Lee kicked out, catching Brandon on the side of the head. With a cut-off howl, Brandon released the knife. The pain was excruciating, but Lee got to his knees, knowing he had to try to get away now, while he still had a little strength to do so. He tried to get to his feet, but a shove to his back sent him crashing to the ground again. Rolling over, he felt as though his chest was on fire. He couldn’t breathe. Leon’s club rested on his collarbone, the weight pushing steadily, adding to his misery. The pressure eased and the wood almost seemed to caress his chest. Crane looked up into the leering face.

“You know what, Yankee boy, it has been a long time since I have been able to whup someone who’s crossed me,” Leon growled.

Lee wasn’t able to tell if it was Leon or the ghost providing the very deep southern country dialect. Probably both. He gasped for air, still holding his side. His very heartbeat was painfully strong in his ears. “Who are you?”

“You heard the darkie wench. I’m Leon.”

Lee felt shock coursing through his body. The ghost had obviously been around for some time to be using that kind of language. He took in a shallow breath and had to bite his lip to stifle a moan. He shook his head. “No, you aren’t. Who are you?”

Leon studied him carefully for a brief moment and then his eyes narrowed. “So you ciphered it.” He leaned closer, his grin growing wider, more predatory. “That will make it so much more fun. And poor Leon will get all the blame.” Leon shoved the club into Lee’s neck, so much so that Crane began to choke and cough.

“So you got Brandon . . . to get you the girls,” Lee wheezed, wiping his sleeve across his mouth. It came back bloody.

“Leon is so easy to use. Easier than walkin’ a mule to feed.”

“And high school boys . . . so easy to influence,” Lee said accusingly. “Do you kill them, too?”

“Have you ever felt someone knockin’ around inside your head, Yankee boy? Have you ever had someone makin’ your body move and your mouth jawin‘ something other than what you want? And all you could do was watch from the porch?” Leon was now leaning on his club and grinning from ear to ear. He knew that his victim wasn’t going anywhere. “I got a church goin’ man to kill his own girl, you know. And the boy she was spoonin’ with, too. With a club just like this. Back during that last world war. I can make anyone do anything, Yankee boy.”

Lee felt panic welling up inside; horrible, debilitating panic. Forgotten was pain; forgotten was the sure knowledge that he was dying. There was only the raw fear that someone else would possess him, use him in whatever vile ways he wanted.

Leon laughed uproariously, in total triumph. “Yep, I can see you have. Oh, this’ll be so fun. Leon’s a half-wit, just good enough to give me freedom to walk around these parts. But you look to be some rich boy, someone with some money. While you live I will enjoy it tremendous.”

There was a sudden scuffling behind him, the noise of someone falling and then a voice calling out to him. Lee felt his heart sink even as the blood rose in his throat to choke him. Meeka!

================================

Meeka sat bolt upright in her bed. She had dozed; the muted television showed some comedian rather than the news she had last been watching. Looking at the clock on the nightstand, she noted the time. Morning rather than late night. Fear clutched at her chest. Vadeer! Then she relaxed. He was surely back by now. She just hadn’t heard him.

Quietly, Meeka slipped out of bed and walked to the door, her nightgown swishing lightly around her legs. She peered out at the sofa bed he had insisted on sleeping on and saw nothing. The fist of her fear grabbed her by the throat again, tightening and choking her. She looked all around. Vadeer was not here.

Dashing back to her bed, Meeka grabbed the clothes she had been wearing during the day and threw them on. She grabbed her jacket. It was undoubtedly several degrees cooler by now. Then she rushed out the door. In the lobby, a sleepy desk clerk jerked awake and started to say something, but Meeka didn’t give him the opportunity to finish before she was out the door. She ran toward the river and then slowed when she realized that she had no idea where Lee would be.

Something was wrong, but how could she find him? Then suddenly it hit her--the island. But why would he go someplace that had seemed so frightening to him. She didn’t know, but somehow Meeka felt that was where she should go. She ran along the riverbank, listening for any sounds. She heard sobs nearby and slowed again. Through the more thickly forming fog, Meeka saw a young woman in Lee’s jacket sitting and crying on a bench.

“Where did you get this?” she demanded, touching the sleeve of the jacket.

The girl jerked up in fright and then relaxed as though relieved that she wasn’t someone else. “Man gave it to me when Brandon . . . was raping me.”

Meeka sucked in a quick breath. “Where is he? The man who gave it to you, that is.”

“He’s probably dead now,” the young black woman said. “Leon hit him pretty hard.”

Ice-cold fingers squeezed her heart again, but Meeka couldn’t give into fear. “Where?” she hissed. “Where is he?”

The girl looked up, tears threatening to spill from her eyes again. “Oh, please, don’t go there. Leon and Brandon will do something horrible to you.”

Meeka grabbed the sleeve of Lee’s jacket. “This belongs to my father! Where is he?” she demanded.

“Long Island,” she said dully. “Don’t go. He said to get the police.”

Meeka started. “Then do it!” she ordered and began sprinting toward the island. “Do it!” she repeated over her shoulder. The Tirean girl ran all out, hearing the older girl’s words echo in her mind. He’s probably dead now over and over again. She ran across the bridge and then stopped and listened. Laughter.

It was the sound of evil and it froze her heart. Still she moved toward the sound. The first thing that came to her view in the dim glow of the few streetlights in the area was an older boy who looked to be in high school. There appeared to be blood dripping down the side of his face, but he was scrambling for a knife on the ground. Then he began crawling toward someone lying in the shadows. A huge man was gazing with hungry, almost luminous eyes at the person on the ground as well. Meeka didn’t hesitate. She threw herself on the boy, who was larger than he had first appeared, and wrested the knife from his fingers. With her free hand, she punched him in the stomach and then kicked him in the side. The handle of the knife was laid across his head. With a soft groan, he sank unconscious to the ground.

Meeka dashed to the fallen man. “Vadeer,” she said with a barely audible gasp.

Lee groaned and then coughed weakly. “Get out of here, Meeka. Now!”

She shook her head. “No!” She looked up at the leering giant.

“So there is a cub. And a wildcat, too. This will be even more fun,” he said. The large man gazed directly into Lee’s eyes. “Did you do things while you were possessed that you wanted to stop?” he asked and then laughed at Lee’s choked cry of anguish.

“Leave him alone!” Meeka cried, brandishing her knife at the giant.

The man didn’t come closer, but he seemed to grow larger, and then like the cells she had watched under a microscope, divided. The more defined part backed away, moaned and fell to the ground, while the other part changed. She could see through him at first then he became more distinct.

Meeka knew this was one of the ghosts the plaque had talked about and she knew why Lee had been so fearful. Realization radiated cold terror through her own body. This bearded, wild-haired entity wanted to possess Lee and Meeka knew that her pitiful weapon was useless.

As the dead fingers touched his chest, Lee moaned. “Meeka, please forgive whatever I do to you.” Meeka heard in his words a depth of despair she had never heard before, even in her days in Tirea.

The ghost laughed through rotted teeth, his tattered clothes rustling with a life of their own. He reached closer even as Meeka saw the reason Lee had been unmoving. Why he hadn’t fought back. Meeka said a quick Hail Mary under her breath. “Please, take me, not him,” she begged. “He’s hurt. Please, take me….”

The ghost laughed louder, but then his voice stopped suddenly as another voice reverberated across the island. “STOP!” it boomed. The ghost cursed and retreated, fear in his eyes to match the anger.

The mists floating above the river seemed to coalesce and take form. The fog gathered to the form, making it larger and larger. Even though there was no breeze, the corporeal fog drifted toward them, continuing to shape itself into the form of a man. Tendrils of fog became arms and hair. Fingers formed and the body became more solid.

“Meeka,” Lee whispered. “Help me . . . sit up, . . . please.”

She complied, trying to be as gentle as she could. He groaned softly. “Let me look at the wound,” she coaxed softly.

He shook his head slightly, his eyes never wavering from the now almost solid form in front of them. The ghost inhabiting Leon crouched nearby, muttering curses, but was clearly the lesser of the two ethereal beings. The new form drew up before them, regal and proud. His long gray hair flowed over his shoulders and moved in a nether-world breeze. His dark eyes were piercing and seemed to bore into Lee’s very soul. The newcomer was obviously the ghost of a powerful Indian of the past. Lee couldn’t tell what nation, but he could only conjecture that it would be Cherokee. The fact that this ghost had saved him from certain horror wasn’t lost on him either. But had they leaped from the frying pan into the fire? Fear still pulsed through his veins. Pushing the fear, the pain and debilitating weakness aside, he nodded politely and said the only Cherokee word he remembered from the display he and Meeka had seen in Oklahoma. “Oh-see-yoh.”

The being in front of them showed brief surprise and then his face became a mask again. The man was fairly short, perhaps only an inch taller than Meeka, but he seemed much larger, evidence of his great power. Lee was startled to find himself comparing the ghost to the admiral, another man of great presence. However, Lee knew the admiral. Beyond power, he didn’t know the predisposition of this being at all. “My daughter . . . let her go, please….”

At the same time, Meeka said, “Please, let me take my father to the hospital. He’s….” Both Meeka and Crane stopped at a slight gesture of the ghost’s hand.

The Indian studied them for another minute before nodding. Lee wondered if the ghost was sizing them up. He was afraid for Meeka and wished for the hundredth time that she had remained in the hotel. And yet….

“I am not here to do further hurt to either of you,” the ghost finally said. He leaned forward and laid a hand on Lee’s shoulder and then on Meeka’s.

Relief flooded through him. If he hadn’t felt so bad, Lee would have laughed, but the best he could do was to whisper thank you and then reach over and touch Meeka’s hand softly. “It’s all right, Meeka,” Lee reassured her softly. And somehow, he felt that was so. Despite the fact that he felt as though he was diving with an empty tank of oxygen, he felt a sense of peace.

“You would die to protect a woman you did not know?” he asked Crane after studying him a few more moments.

“I couldn’t….” he took too deep a breath and had to shut his eyes a moment to control the dizziness and pain. “Couldn’t just ignore her screams . . . for help,” he finally said.

“And you,” the Indian said to Meeka. “You were willing to take his place; to be taken over by the white man’s ghost?”

“Yes, Leader,” Meeka said, her voice almost a whisper.

“I am Amadahy. My name represents the water that runs through what was once a great forest. I am Aniyunwiya, or in your English, Cherokee.”

“You were the one . . . who cursed this island,” Lee conjectured.

“Yes, I am. But that is history and you do not have time for the full history.”

Lee didn’t answer. There was no need, for the statement was true.

“I am here because it is in my heart to take back my curse,” Amadahy said.

“Why?” Lee asked bluntly and then closed his eyes against another bout of dizziness.

“Because the land will never be the same. The people are not the same. It was wrong to punish the land for the sake of those with bad hearts. This earth wants to rest.” He paused. “Some are like that one,” the Indian said, pointing to the ghost who had inhabited Leon. “But others, like you, have different hearts. If you are not the only ones with the hearts of real people, then I will let this once sacred land have peace.”

“How will you decide that, sir?” Meeka asked politely, at the same time worried about Lee, who now seemed to be drifting in and out of consciousness. She was afraid he would die in her arms and she didn’t know if she could stand that.

“I would become a part of you and see into your heart.”

Meeka felt faint, her heart skipped a beat as she realized what he was proposing. “Possessing me?” she asked weakly.

Amadahy shook his head. “Not in the way that the evil one proposed, nor in the way your adoptive father was possessed before.”

“You know?” Lee asked, having trouble focusing.

Nodding, Amadahy said, “I have been listening.”

“Please, Mr. Amadahy. Vadeer needs medical help. He is dying,” Meeka said plaintively. She felt tears burning in her eyes. She was afraid of this ghost, but she was more afraid for Lee.

“Yes, I know. Be patient, woman leader. Let me see into your heart briefly and then I will decide.”

Meeka bit her lip and felt the trembling body in her arms. “All right,” she whispered, closing her eyes. At first she felt nothing, then she felt a cool presence wrapping around her, entering her and filling her. Her mind felt the tendrils of other-consciousness and she tried to relax. She began seeing things from her past--her years in the orphanage, the sadness she felt at having no family, the feelings of helplessness and despair in the country of her birth, Father Vincente, then of Lee and Chip’s arrival and the group’s fearful flight through the country. And most especially she dwelt on her thoughts of Lee and all the others who had welcomed her into their lives in this country. The thoughts continued and then suddenly, she was free. Amadahy was gone.

In her arms, Lee stirred and then sat up straight, pulling away. He turned to her and gazed into her face. His eyes showed fear and then surprise and finally reassurance. The girl knew that Amadahy was inside Lee. “Vadeer, are you all right?” She noticed the overly large bloodstain on his shirt, but he was breathing all right for the moment. He nodded, but made no other movement. It was as though he was trying to figure out what was going on. In the distance, she heard sirens. They seemed to be coming closer. Meeka studied his wound more closely and blanched. She hoped that the sirens were for him.

“The curse will be lifted,” Lee said, his voice curiously like Amadahy’s slightly accented voice and yet still his own. “The island will never be sacred again, but it will be at peace. Those entities that would come for evil purposes will be unable to reside here.” At that pronouncement, the ghost who had possessed Leon screamed a curse and then was gone.

The sirens continued to draw near, finally stopping on the other side of the river. Voices called out and Meeka answered.

A police officer was the first to reach them. Despite his previous abhorrence to possession, this time Crane was mentally begging the Cherokee medicine man to remain with him a few more seconds. He reached out and took the officer’s sleeve. “Please, take care of my daughter. We were traveling alone. No family here.” He couldn’t say anymore; he was gasping for air as it was.

“We’ll make sure she’s safe, sir. You just relax and let the paramedics take care of you.”

And Lee did. Even as he saw and felt the Indian slip away, so too did his own awareness. He only remotely heard the EMT’s asking Meeka questions and checking him out. Then he heard nothing.

========================

Meeka was sitting by the bedside, holding her vadeer’s hand, occasionally reaching over and stroking his cheek. She had finally won the battle to sit with him for more than the short visiting hours. She didn’t know exactly what had caused the change of heart. For a day and a half, she had begged, demanded and even tried to sneak in, but six hours ago, they had suddenly told her she could sit with Lee for as long as she wished. She was puzzled, but so grateful she didn‘t pause to think about it very long. The temporary foster home had been all right, but the older woman didn’t seem to know what to do or how to act toward her. It had been extremely awkward.

Now, though, Meeka was here and she would not leave until the admiral arrived. Probably not even then. It had been a day after the incident before she had been able to talk to Admiral Nelson, she had been so immersed in everything going on here--worried about Lee, answering questions the police asked her, the doctors had asked her. Thinking back, she couldn’t say what she had done one minute or the other. But the admiral had assured her during their last conversation that he was flying down from Washington, D.C. Maybe that was why the hospital had suddenly relented. Regardless, she wished Lee would wake up. The doctor had only told her that he had been hurt very badly, but that she already knew. There were tubes everywhere--in his chest, IV tubes in his arms, a tube feeding him oxygen through his nose, but he was now breathing all right and seemed to be fairly comfortable. Remembering his last words, ‘please take care of my daughter’ gave her a warm glow. It had been the third time in only several hours time that he had referred to her as his daughter. She had not thought it would be so exquisitely wonderful, but it was.

Lee stirred a little and she was instantly attentive. “Oh, Father,” she whispered. “Wake up, please. Wake up and tell me you will be all right.” But he didn’t wake up, and while still sitting in the chair; she leaned forward and laid her head next to his side. Soon she was asleep, lulled by the rhythmic rise and fall of her adopted father’s chest.

=========================

Lee felt the fog swirling around him, thick and soupy, heavy with a cloying stickiness, the smell antiseptic and sterile. His eyelids were heavy, but he was finally able to open them. He found he was in a hospital bed and frowned, wondering how he got there. Lee felt little pain, probably most likely due to meds. There was simply a general discomfort. His chest seemed heavy and he felt the soft pumping of air into his lungs through a tube in his nose. He seemed to be connected to innumerable machines.

As he tried to remember what had happened, Lee saw Meeka, sitting in a chair next to the bed, her head resting awkwardly against his side. She was sound asleep. Everything about last night--was it only last night, or how long had he been asleep, he wondered? Everything seemed murky, but he remembered what Amadahy had said to him with crystal clarity. The Cherokee medicine man had entered his body after leaving Meeka’s. Lee had pretty much only been aware of his pain and weakness at the time, but Amadahy had lent him strength and he was able to focus on his surroundings. That had surprised him. Unlike Krueger, who had completely taken him over, used him and abused him, the Indian had only been a partial passenger-- lending strength, studying him and making comments. ‘You and the woman chief-to-be have been brought together by the Gods.’ Lee couldn’t dispute that in the least. He couldn’t even consider that what had happened in Tirea had been coincidence. ‘You both have the hearts of warriors. Warriors understand much that others do not. Share your hearts; give her what she most wants. She has taken your name, but she wants more than that. You can give her what her heart needs. And she will give you of her heart in return. She will become a great warrior someday, like her father is now.’ And then not long afterward, the Indian had left.

‘Give her what her heart needs.’ She wanted to be his daughter, him to be her father. Could he do that? Lee didn’t know, but he could sure try. He drifted back to sleep for a few minutes, but woke again when Meeka stirred. Lee laid his hand gently on her head, touching the dark curls affectionately. She did have the heart of a warrior, that was for sure. Suddenly, Meeka raised her head, her deep brown eyes gazing into his.

Then she broke out into a happy smile. “Father!” she exclaimed. “You are awake! How do you feel?”

“Yes,” he began, feeling as though his throat was made of sandpaper, but he continued, even though his voice was no more than a whisper. “My brave, wonderful daughter, because of you, I am not only awake, I am alive.”

Her grin widened and she laughed, taking his hand in hers and raising it to her cheek. “Then I am truly your daughter?”

“You were before. But yes, you are truly my daughter, no matter what....”

“No matter what,” she repeated.

Lee felt the tears of her joy on his hand and he was content.

The End




Author’s Notes:

The basis of this story comes from a couple of books, both by the same author, Charles Edwin Price. Haunted Tennessee gave me the sketchy history of Long Island in Kingsport, Tennessee, along with a story of murder and revenge. A previous book, of which I finally found a copy, Haints, Witches and Boogers; ghost stories of upper East Tennessee, gave more detail into the history as well as the story of the club wielding maniac who killed his daughter and her boyfriend. I had a brief email from a chamber of commerce worker in Kingsport who told me that there was a plaque on the island, but what is on it, I have no idea. I wasn’t able to get anything else from the city parks and recreation people and I haven’t had time to go there myself. The event of the ceding of the land from the Cherokees to the British is true. The name of the Indian I borrowed from a list of Cherokee words. The original name of the Cherokee was indeed Aniyunwiya. (Well, I have seen another name from a Western Cherokee site, but am sticking with this one.) According to Price, local law officials have admitted that more dark events have centered on Long Island than anywhere else in the area.

This story takes place after The Little Army and Foam on the Large Wave. It helps to have read the former, but not necessary, I think.

 

September, 2006.

 

 

 

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