Grant was just doing his rounds around the ship. Something he must have done a million times.
So then… Why was he so jumpy?
He tossed the ball in his hands again. Damn that idiot for telling that stupid ghost story. Who cares what some drunk-off-his-ass, sleep-deprived, overworked teenager saw in the middle of the night?
Grant would bet all the money he was making on this job that the kid would have made out with a poster and said he’d met a mermaid the next morning!
So then, why? What had him on-edge?
A rat scurried across the deck in front of him, and he dropped the baseball, nearly jumping out of his shoes.
Grant cursed. He needed a drink himself, actually.
Blowing on his hands to warm them from the early-autumn air, he grabbed the ball from the floor and headed below for his personal stash.
The corridor dripped and creaked. Grant nodded at Middle-Aged-Malcolm as he passed, then at Shortstack-Steve.
Steve gave a rowdy, “Hi, Mister Grant!” from behind him.
Grant replied, “Hey, Steve.”
Steve came around a corner ahead of him with a “Heya, Grant!”
And saw Malcolm going up the stairs to the deck.
… Had he already drunk tonight?
Steve was giving him a concerned look.
He shook his head to clear it and continued shambling down the corridor. He REALLY needed that drink if he was this jumpy.
More of his crewmates greeted him in the barracks. He ignored them in favor of his booze.
He sat on his bed, setting the ball in its place on his pillow, and popped the cap off the first one he grabbed.
He took a long drink.
“Much better,” he mumbled.
“Wind ‘as some bite to it tonight, eh?”
Bruce slopped himself onto his bed. Grant grimaced. Bruce was a good guy, but he’d rather the slob had sat on a garbage can first.
His bed would be cleaner for it.
“Or maybe tha’ lad’s story ‘as gotten to ya?” Bruce jeered.
Grant glared, but didn’t dare make eye-contact. He sipped from his bottle, hoping Bruce wouldn’t notice.
“Oh-ho! I never thought I’d see the day the Great and Punctual Grant The-Goody-Two-Shoes would be scared by-”
“Shut up!” Grant snarled at him.
And he did.
“… Hang on. Yer serious?”
Grant studied the label of the bottle in his hands. “Haven’t you noticed something… off?”
“No’ really, no.” Bruce was looking at him blankly.
Grant sighed. “Just… nevermind.”
Taking one last swig, Grant stood and handed the bottle to Bruce.
“Ay, before ya leave, I’ve a message from-”
“-What does he want me to do now?” Grant interrupted with a sigh.
Sometimes being “The-Goody-Two-Shoes” had its downsides. Like getting extra responsibilities without any extra pay.
“Said ‘e wanted ya to check on the new cargo. Thinks we might ‘ave stowaways-”
The hairs on Grant’s neck stood up. ‘Please don’t say it.’
“-Malcolm says ‘e ‘eard voices from insi’e the crates.”
Swallowing, Grant just nodded and left.
He cursed all the way to the hold.
Oddly, there was a gas mask hanging outside the door. Apparently, the crates held some kind of dangerous something-or-other. The mask was in case it leaked.
Or, that’s what the kid had told them. The kid had also said the crates were haunted.
Grant put the mask on anyway. Better safe than sorry, right?
Huh. Looked like Ol’ Middle-Aged was right. He could hear voices coming from inside. Looking in the window, he thought he could see a figure standing above each crate. They were blurry — someone hadn’t cleaned the window properly, huh? He’d find out who it was and chew them out later.
Bracing himself — ‘Just some drunk teenager’s story!’ — and with a few last curses for good measure, he slammed the door open.
“Oy! What do you lot think you’re doing, huh?!”
They turned their heads in his direction. There was something off…
They were still blurry?
‘… Must be the mask, then.’
Cursing the gas mask for not letting him see their faces clearly, he stomped over.
“Stowaways ain’t… t-tolerated… on…”
He’d gotten close enough that they weren’t blurry anymore. He could see their faces.
Or rather, face.
For some reason, they looked familiar. And- they all looked the same.
The same height. The same clothes. The only difference between them — was one didn’t have hands, one didn’t have a nose… and one didn’t have a mouth.
And… They were all children.
They hadn’t been standing above the crates. They were standing ON them.
That was that, then.
He was drunk.
He had to be.
Then one of them — the one without hands — spoke.
His voice sent chills down Grant’s spine. For some reason, the way it echoed emptily — it reminded him of a hospital.
He and the three strange boys stared at each other for a few seconds. In which time, Grant couldn’t make himself move. But he noticed something he definitely should have sooner.
The boys were see-through.
Then- the expressions on the boys’ faces changed.
Their eyes glowed red, their fingers became clawlike, and-
-was the room shaking?!
A drawn-out howl broke Grant out of his shock.
Where had everyone else gone? No one stopped him from sprinting for the outside.
For some reason, he felt like that was the only way to be free of them. But they blocked every attempt he made.
He ran down every hallway, up every staircase, but every time was met by a pair of red eyes.
He was cornered.
No options left, he ran inside the barracks.
He tried to hide under the closest bed — his bed — but too late. They were already here. Walking toward him, blocking any escape. No weapons near him — what would even work against a ghost?!
“WHY?!” They spoke in unison. Gone was the empty echo. They sounded like thunder. “WHY?! FATHER! WHY?!”
He couldn’t breath. They were getting closer, trapping him.
And he couldn’t breath!
He ripped off the mask.
The boys froze.
Everything froze. Nothing moved — not him, not the ghosts (ghosts!), not the air. There was no sound of dripping or creaking. Even the waves were silent.
“Hang on,” the boy with no hands — the leader? He was in the middle — turned to the one with no nose, “Does he look different to you?”
No Nose nodded. No Mouth was squinting at Grant.
No Hands walked up to where Grant was crouched. He stared at him a bit longer — then started laughing.
“Ha! Oh my — I’m so sorry, Mister Grant!” He turned to the other two, “It’s okay, it’s not him!”
No Hands crouched and held out an arm — was he trying to help him up? — and said cheerfully, “Sorry! We thought you were someone else, heh!”
Grant didn’t grab it.
After a few seconds, No Hands stood up straight.
He glanced around awkwardly, then paused. And smiled.
“Cool!” No Hands pointed an arm at something. “Hey, do you mind if we borrow that?”
Grant cautiously turned his head to see what he was pointing at. It was the baseball on Grant’s pillow.
Grant looked back at the boys. All three of them no longer looked like they were going to kill him and devour his corpse.
They just… looked like three excited little boys. Three excited, see-through little boys.
Slowly, Grant nodded.
“Awesome!” No Nose shouted.
No Hands ran over to the bed — and lifted the ball.
With no hands. It just- floated in front of his arm. Where his hand would be. But wasn’t.
“We’ll bring it back before we leave! Promise!”
And like that, they ran out of the room.
Through the wall.
He was definitely drunk.
Had to be.
After all, he’d just realized why they looked familiar. All three of those boys…
They looked just like that teenager-
-who’d told them the ghost story to begin with… And who’d told them to wear that gas mask…
So that was why he’d been so jumpy.
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