The Ghosts You Know
Coming down Main Street in Keyport, old homes of noble pedigree stand alongside more modest recently renovated two-family dwellings. Evening lights begin to come on and glow, creating safe pockets of light on the porches and within the houses. It is a charming place.
The trees are old, thick and have been wind-twisted into wild, ancient shapes that cast vivid, dancing shadows across the lawns and sides of other houses. They seem to almost come alive when the winds kick up.
The town of Keyport holds its secrets pretty much the way a drunk holds onto his bottle, safe and well-protected at most times and once and again so poorly that it spills out into a shattered mess onto unyielding stones of indifference.
Secrets hate being kept. Secrets were being traded for truth on this night, and truth can be dangerous. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but that don’t stop people from asking questions. The answers can shock sometimes.
One thing that was not a secret in Keyport is the story of the fire of 1877. Downtown Keyport’s best buildings were destroyed. Offices, warehouses and retail shops, along with many of the stately homes along Main Street were burned to rubble.
Few know the reasons behind the fire. It was much more than a family grudge. Oh, how cold this town’s heart can be. If there is forgiveness in this world these three families could end this feud of nearly 140 years. Love, betrayal, murder, redemption and revenge are such a delicious combination. Grudges die hard.
Moving up First Street, the houses are lit up, candles in some windows, rich lighting and quirky décor in others.
California House stands out amongst all the houses. She is lushly aglow with lights in the windows and movement in the well-lit rooms. The first thing you notice about California House is her fertile front garden. It is an eclectic mixture of thick, varied foliage and thoughtfully chosen pieces of art and other visual candy. Freshly watered and earthy rich, the garden attracts all types of birds, squirrels and colorful flying things that glow.
As you stand in front of the California taking in her beauty, you are oddly drawn to the building behind you, facing her at an angle.
If California House was a dark, sensual brunette then Sun House was a sun kissed Jersey Shore blonde, with freckles and a glint of mischief in her eye.
Sun House was stacked with blonde bricks and lighter colors than the beauty across the way, Sun House had no reason to doubt her beauty. Her poetic curves, plain and tidy garden, elegant trim and ground level elegance were inviting and chilling at once.
She was dark this evening, any number of things could be lurking in the growing dark. Sunny was the new kid on the block back in 1877 and that did not go unnoticed by the two other proud ladies.
Moving up First Street towards the imposing steps of Brooklyn House, we stop for a moment to admire the kitchy appeal of Sea House, Matt Salvi’s family home in the triangle between the three ladies.
A replica of a seven foot hammerhead shark hands over the enclosed porch. Clamshell lawn, whitewashed walls with nautical themed artwork detailed around the outside of the house. Sea House has been there almost as long as the others, but she is lower and more modest in stature, if not colorful in style.
Brooklyn House, the oldest and most distant on First Street, is the proud matriarch whose heart always glowed. Brooklyn House has a stoop of 12 steps. It is a unique feature in this area, usually seen on brownstones and brick houses in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The stoop juts out like a proud bosom.
Her red brick western wall catches the sun’s last colors and serves as a movie screen for the shadows of the dancing branches of a twisted elm in the yard.
Three old Captain’s mansions standing watch over First Street. Each similar, yet unique. Each with her own story. Three families, once so close, were driven to murder, violence and deceit. When the fighting was done, each house was broken in a profoundly different way. Each house, each family, carries on the history in their quiet homage to the past.
But Keyport has begun giving up her secrets and there would be consequences. Recently we’ve begun to feel a new time coming. A bad time, perhaps. Maybe even the worst.
Across the rippling water, the wind picks up steam. The town from eye level in the bay is rocking a little uneven now. Night colors are coming up.
Another thing that could no longer be considered a Keyport secret was the ghosts. Keyport was filthy with them. They are everywhere and everyone knows it. Tour guides have been showing groups around town and telling them the stories of these houses and the legends behind them. Most of it is phooey, but that doesn’t stop them from going on and on…
A candle light guided tour of about a dozen people gathers at the foot of the stoop at Brooklyn House. The tour guide is dressed in the uniform of the ghost of a 19th century sea captain, a little worse for wear. He mounts a few steps and raises his lantern and primes his audience with a fierce stare.
He clears his throat and begins- “Captain Walter’s voyaged from Ireland to the New World in search of treasure and he found gold in abundance. Amongst his crew there were many Irishmen who did not wish to share the new-found wealth with the monarchs of Britain.
“On their journey up the Atlantic Coast, the sailors mutinied and imprisoned their captain, tying him to the main mast and refusing to give him food or drink. Day after day, the captain lay exposed to the hot sun of summer, his body drying up as the treacherous sailors worked around him.
Finally, his pride broken, Captain Walter’s begged: “Water. Please. Give me just one sip of water.” The mutineers found this amusing, and started carrying water up to the main mast and holding it just out of reach of their former captain.
In the terrible heat of a dry summer, the captain did not survive long without water. A few days after the mutiny, the captain succumbed to heat and thirst.”
The guide uses a small control device to control the lights and sounds. Inside the house, there is a glowing computer screen on a table in the front room. Lights flicker and a long, deep moan vibrates the windows, sending shivers through the crowd. The crowd gasps.
The guide continues his speech.
“The new captain, a greedy Spaniard with no compassion in his soul, left Captain Walters tied to the mast, his body withering away, while the ship turned pirate and plundered its way up the Jersey coast.
“But God was watching the ruthless men, and a terrible storm arose and drove the ship deep into the Atlantic, where it sank with all hands, the body of Captain Walters still tied to the broken mast.”
A ripple of surprise goes through the crowd.
“Shortly after the death of the mutineers-turned-pirate, an eerie ghost ship began appearing along the Keyport coast, usually in the calm just before a storm. It had the appearance of a treasure ship, but its mast was broken, its sails torn, and the corpse of a noble-looking, heroic Captain was tied to the mast. The ship was crewed by skeletons in ragged clothing. As it passed other ships or houses near the shore, the skeletons would stretch out bony hands and cry: “Water. Please. Give us just one sip of water.”
An unrehearsed flash of lightning and the nearby roar of thunder interrupt the moment. Some in the crowd scream with surprise and fear. One girl jumps up. The guide, rolling with the moment, grits his teeth and growls out his lines.
“But no one can help them, for they are eternally doomed to roam the Jersey coast, suffering from thirst in payment for their terrible greed and terror upon the good people living here. “
The electricity fails and all goes black in Keyport…
“The Ghosts of Magic Beach” is a work of fiction. ALL CHARACTERS AND REFERENCES TO ALL FACTS ARE A PRODUCT OF THE AUTHOR’S IMAGINATION. All rights reserved WINK AND NOD PRODUCTIONS 2017.
NEXT- THE GHOSTS OF MAGIC BEACH- EXCERPT 3 “JUST DOWN THE ROAD”