Ghost Marina on the Mississippi

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Chapter 17 – Stark Realisation – Modern Day

Jason suddenly sat up wide awake, his sleeping-bag was soaked through and it was sticking to him as he tried to extricate himself out of it. He then realized the source of the problem, it had been pouring with rain outside and he had forgotten to close the front hatch. Reaching up, he closed the hatch and secured it, it had stopped raining now, so it was a little like shutting the barn door after the horses had fled. The mattress was soaked, as was his bedding, so he wouldn’t be able to continue with those sleeping arrangements. He still had some dry blankets stashed away and he could make up another bed by dropping the kitchen table across the two bench seats. But dawn was breaking and after the nightmare, he had just experienced he didn’t think he would get back to sleep anyway.

Jason put on a swimming costume and a t-shirt then lit the burner to boil some water for a coffee. He tried to recall segments of the nocturnal sequence of events he had just experienced. Almost everything in the dream could be explained, the lights, the boats, he had seen all those things and his brain could quite easily play tricks with his imagination by embellishing the facts. It was the people he couldn’t explain and the lady he had danced with, that was truly strange. While he was waiting for the water to boil he poured himself an orange juice and a bowl of cereal. Once his coffee was made he sat down at the table to eat his breakfast and tried to decipher what the dream was all about.

Jason was not prone to wild flights of fancy and his dreams to date had always bordered on boring, usually he didn’t have any at all, certainly none that he could recall. But this one had been different, it was so vivid it was almost as if it had actually happened, but that was quite impossible. A thought crossed his mind, but he immediately dismissed it as folly, but it came to him again, the second time he knew it was his only course of action. He was going to have to dive into the bowels of the boats in an attempt to find answers.

First of all, diving alone is an absolute no-no, an action he had already carried out on this trip. But diving in unknown waters through wrecks and all the obstacles they could contain wasn’t just a no-no, it was downright madness, especially when no one was aware of where he was and what he was doing. But he was determined to go through with it, the dream was a sign of some kind, he didn’t know what, but he firmly believed a dive down to locate the doorway the lady had disappeared through in his dream would provide some answers.

Once Jason had finished breakfast, the first thing he felt he should do was bring out his sleeping bag and mattress to dry them out a little. With his bedding spread out on the top of his boat, Jason began to prepare his equipment for a second dive, remembering to add an extra knife to his kit. He ensured both his camera and underwater light were fully charged and at 10:00 AM, he was ready to enter the water. The clouds had cleared leaving a beautiful, blue, clear sky that would help a little with his visibility underwater. He entered the water with a little trepidation, he was beginning to have second thoughts as he submerged and began heading for the paddle steamer. He retraced his dive from the previous day until he entered the ballroom where his first action was to search underneath the table for the lady’s bracelet that he had dreamt about. There was nothing to be seen except sunken garbage, silt, and weeds. In his heart, he wanted to be able to find some evidence to support his dream but in reality, this was what he had expected. He was about to abandon the dive as folly when a brief flash of light caught his attention. Rays of light had reflected on an object a few feet away. He finned slowly towards the source of the reflection, trying his best not to kick-up all the silt on the deck of the boat. There, almost totally buried under the debris was a beautiful bracelet. Jason picked up the object, gave it a quick inspection and placed it in the diver’s bag attached to his weight belt. The bracelet was not exactly where he dreamt it was, but the current and even the sinking of the ship could have moved it from its original position. There was now no doubt in his mind that he had to go through with the remainder of his search.

Jason hovered at the entrance where he had dreamt the lady had gone, he calmed himself and pointed the flashlight down the stairs. There did not appear to be any obstructions and the opening was certainly big enough for him to proceed through, even with all his equipment. Cautiously, Jason slowly went down, pulling on the stairs to assist his downward progression to the bottom. Once at the bottom of the steps he shone his flashlight around, checked through all the rooms but there was nothing to see. Disappointed, he was about to ascend back up to the entrance when he noticed a closed door he had missed. The lever of the door was down, and a cotter pin, that was attached to a small chain, had been inserted to fix the handle in position. Using his diver’s knife, he managed to pry out the rusty pin and attempted to pull up the lever, but it was rusted solid. He looked around for some sort of solid object he could use to bang the lever open but there was nothing in the immediate vicinity. Jason revisited the rooms and found a hammer and a crowbar, he returned to the closed door and began to knock open the lever. Working underwater, as he was doing was difficult, it was impossible to take big swings because of the resistance of the water. Additionally, he would be increasing the use of his precious air and he monitored his dials periodically to ensure he had enough supply to return to the surface. With the lever finally up, he used the crowbar to lever open the door. He slowly opened the door and what he saw was a sight that would be indelibly burnt in his memory for the rest of his life.

What faced Jason were numerous skeletons that had been packed into the room like sardines. His first thought, judging by what was left of the clothes that partially covered the bones, was that they must have been the passengers on the boat and they had been forced into this tiny room to die like drowning rats. What was even more disturbing was that the skeleton nearest to the door was wearing a necklace that matched the bracelet he had just retrieved upstairs. Was this the skeleton of the woman in his dream? It took all his composure to not throw up, there and then, which would have been fatal for him. He managed to take some deep breaths, wasting more precious air, but it was necessary to combat the nausea that had welled up inside him. Much calmer now, he remembered to take a couple of photos of the macabre scene and decided that he had spent sufficient time down there. He was about to leave when he debated about removing the necklace from the skeleton. For the second time in under 24 hours, he was contemplating stealing articles. This was a tomb and it was felt that taking artifacts from the dead is in fact stealing but he also thought that it may help in identifying the owner. Reverently, he gently removed the necklace from the bones of the person it had rested on for all those years. He opened his diver’s bag and placed the necklace inside, next to the bracelet.

Jason returned slowly back up the steps but instead of leaving through the back door of the paddle steamer, he decided to exit through the door at the front. As he opened the door he was greeted by another skeleton, this one had a hole in the middle of the front of its skull. Again, Jason fought to keep his composure and left the boat through the bridge’s entrance. Feeling calmer, he checked his instruments one more time and decided he had enough air to take a quick dive down to the cabin-cruiser.

Jason finned down to the cabin-cruiser but this time he entered the boat and looked down into the cabin. There, lying on the floor was a similar chilling sight to the one he had witnessed in the paddle steamer. The strange thing was, he could see three skulls, each one had a hole either in the forehead or in the back of it, could they be bullet holes? But who was the third person? There was also a strange hand-held radio beside the three skeletons that Jason retrieved, something he wouldn’t have thought was available in those days. He paused to take some more photographs and thinking there was no more that could be gleaned from the scene he was about to return to the surface when he saw a cap lying at the bottom of the boat. It had badly deteriorated but on the front of it was a badge that spelled ‘DOCKMASTER’, that certainly could explain the third person. He picked up the cap and a few bits of cloth fell away from it but the front with the badge on it remained intact. Again, he was about to leave when something else caught his eye, it was a safe built into the body of the boat. Using his knife, he managed to cut away the wood, which was soft after being underwater for so long. Jason freed the safe, but it was too heavy to lift so he decided to surface with the cap and look for some rope he could secure around the safe to haul it up. There was no shortage of lines laying around the docks, so he chose one and tied an end securely to one of the piles and dove back down with the other end to tie around the safe. It didn’t take long for him to secure the safe, which was just as well as he was beginning to find difficulty drawing breath from his demand-valve, his cylinder was running out of air.

Without panicking, Jason ascended slowly and once his head broke the surface he immediately spat out his demand-valve and took a deep breath of fresh air. He finned to the dock, unstrapped his equipment and rested it on the edge of the dock, ensuring the dockmaster’s cap and his diver’s bag were secure and not going to fall back over the side. There was a ladder at the end of the dock and after testing the rungs decided it would support his full weight. He climbed up the ladder, picked up the recovered articles and immediately went to his boat to fetch a bottle of water. His mouth was parched from breathing the air from the cylinder so now he needed some water to quench his thirst. He placed his diving bag and the retrieved cap on a seat on his boat before climbing aboard. Jason went down below and found two Ziploc bags, he placed the bracelet and necklace in one of the bags then the cap in the other. Then, he opened his cooler to extract a bottle of reasonably cool water and took a long swig. For a moment he wondered what the people on these boats would have thought if they would have heard about bottled air and water in their day.

After climbing out of his wet-suit, having a brief rest and downing a full bottle of water, Jason went to haul on the line to raise the safe. He gave the rope a couple of tugs and slowly, hand over hand, he managed to rein in a few feet of the line until it would come no more. The safe must have snagged on something on the cabin-cruiser. He gave it a few more futile pulls and decided that the only solution was to dive back down to the boat. Except this time, he would have to carry out a free dive because he had no way of replenishing his empty air-cylinders. He wrapped the line around the starboard winch of his boat before securing the end to a cleat. He really couldn’t be bothered to go through the rigor of putting on his wet suit again, so he put on his fins, spat some saliva into his mask and wiped it around the glass with his fingers to prevent defogging. Then, he placed the mask in position and put the mouthpiece of his snorkel into his mouth. The boat was approximately 25 feet below the surface, so Jason knew that his working time at the safe would be just a matter of seconds. He moved to the side of the boat and took in a couple of deep breaths, then, without a second thought he lunged forward from a seated position into the cold water. He finned down quickly, but efficiently, a couple of times he was forced to pinch his nose and blow, clearing his ears to equate with the increasing water pressure as he descended. Fortunately, on his arrival at the boat, he could see that the safe had simply caught on the bottom rung of the stairs, leading up from the cabin. He managed to slide the safe away from the obstruction, he then stood on the boat, bent his knees slightly and by lifting the safe by the line it was attached to, he was able to haul the safe up through the entrance and onto the deck of the submerged boat. Quickly, amidst a cloud of disturbed silt and algae that had been settling there for over seventy years, he pushed off from the boat to return to the surface. Jason reached the surface just as his head was beginning to feel faint from a lack of oxygen and as his head broke through the water he took a huge gulp of air. Slowly, he finned to the dock and after taking off his fins and mask he climbed up the steps to continue hauling on the line. This time, instead of hand over hand on the line, he used the winch to haul in the line until the safe was at the surface. Once more he secured the line around a cleat on his own boat, he really didn’t relish having to dive down for the safe a third time. Jason reached down to pull the safe from the water and placed it onto the dock. Jason then lifted the safe onto his boat just in front of the wheel-console, he dispensed with the line and began to inspect the box. There was a protective cover to the lock which was immovable without tools as it was welded shut with rust and grime. There should have been a key to open the safe, but it wasn’t present, and he doubted if he would be able to find it even if he had more air for another dive. Neither did he have the ways and means to crack open the safe. He would have to wait until he returned to Chuck’s marina where he was sure Chuck would know someone who could crack it open.

Still thirsty from his diving exertions, Jason retrieved another bottle of water from the cooler and headed back topside to enjoy what was a beautiful spring morning. He dried himself off and stood in the sun for a little while to rest and warm up. As he was reaching his head back to suck the last vestiges of water from the bottle he heard a small splash coming from the direction of the slip where the St. Louis Streamer had sunk. As he glanced over towards the source of the sound he could have sworn he saw a delicate hand receding beneath the surface of the water leaving behind in its wake a few gentle ripples. Jason contemplated what he saw for a moment and decided it must have been a fish breaking the top of the water. The sun reflecting on the scales of the fish could easily play tricks with his mind. A combination of light-headedness from his free dive and his brain still swimming with the sights he had just witnessed underwater, Jason dismissed the notion as fantasy and just a trick of the light. Even though he had not encountered a single fish during his entire dive.

With all his diving equipment secured he began to prepare lunch and think about a return to Chuck’s marina and what he was going to tell the man about his discoveries. He had a quick meal consisting of a ham sandwich, a packet of chips followed by an apple, all washed down with a soda. He then changed into his jeans, sweatshirt and a jacket and put his still damp mattress back into the cabin. He opened the front hatch hoping that the through-draft would help to dry out the mattress, making a mental note to close it again before he went to sleep that evening. His sleeping-bag he reversed and secured it on the lifelines, he was hoping that the breeze during the return trip would complete the drying out process and he would still be able to use it that night.

Jason started the engine, untied the mooring lines and reversed out of the slip, he was retracing the track he had taken when he entered the marina, so he was confident he wouldn’t encounter any underwater obstructions. What he hadn’t expected was that more of the concrete would have fallen at the marina’s entrance and there was a sizeable chunk blocking his exit. He pulled the boat parallel with the spit of land at the entrance and held onto the line until he secured it around a tree. There was no way he could lift the lump of concrete that had fallen but all he needed to do was somehow move it clear so that he could navigate his boat through the entrance. He looked around for something he could use as a lever, a long piece of wood or a metal bar. He had his emergency oar on the boat, but he didn’t think it would be strong enough to counter the weight of the concrete. Then he spotted a couple of re-bars sticking out of the wall that might do the trick. He pulled on one of the metal poles and after a couple of good tugs, it began to ease out of the concrete encasement. When the end finally broke away from the concrete, Jason was face to face with one of the most gruesome sights he had ever seen. Stuck to the bottom of the re-bar was the head of what had once been a man that took on a striking resemblance to the man with the gun in his nightmare. This time Jason was unable to fight back the gall in the pit of his stomach, he dropped the rod and threw up into the water. After about a minute, he wiped his mouth and forced himself to turn and look at the ghastly sight he had just uncovered. Was there no end to the ghastly goings-on that had occurred here? The head was badly decomposed, all Jason could assume was that the head had only recently been exposed to the air after being buried in concrete for all these years. He still needed to use the rod as a lever to get out of the place, so he was going to have to extract the head, but he couldn’t put it back in the encasement, he would need it as proof. He decided to compromise by retrieving a couple of large Ziploc bags from his boat with the view of placing the head into those. First, he had to slide the head off the re-bar, which he managed to do, constantly gagging and fighting back nausea. He then slipped a bag over the head, zipped up the bag and repeated the task with a second bag. He then secured the bundle against the wall, surrounding it with some of the broken concrete. Based on his findings to date, Jason was almost positive there were probably other bodies down there in the depths of the wall, but he had had enough of the macabre for one day and he was not going to look.

All Jason wanted to do was get out of that marina as quickly as possible, so he put all his efforts into the movement of the concrete obstruction. He pushed the end of the re-bar as far as he could underneath the lump of concrete and used another broken piece of the wall as a fulcrum. With one almighty push down on the pole, the concrete slipped into the water with a pathetic plop. Jason untied the mooring line from the tree, jumped back on the boat and slowly negotiated the entrance back out to the river. Although he couldn’t resist having one more ghoulish, glance towards the head of the man he had uncovered. Yet another dead body, his grandfather, his mate, the dockmaster, thirty plus people on the paddle steamer and now this poor guy, not to mention the possibility of more buried down that shaft. What possible reason could there be for all these deaths and who was responsible for all these pernicious acts?

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