The next night, AUV was low on power, so Frederick offered to take me somewhere.
“How about to the shipwreck!” I suggested.
“Oh, the Norwich City? OK, hop aboard.”
It was just a short trip, because the Nai’a was actually tied to the Norwich City on a long rope. The Norwich City didn’t look much like a ship. It looked like a bunch of rusty pipes and a tank and a bunch of square things, all in a line on the reef.
The Norwich City in 2007
“That’s it,” Frederick said. “My great grandpa said he could remember when it had sides and a bow and a smokestack and everything.”
“What makes your grandpa so great?”
“Nothing. Great grandpa means your grandpa’s grandpa – well, my grandpa’s grandpa, in this case.”
“How can a grandpa have a grandpa?”
Frederick just looked over his shell at me and shook his head. The tide was high so he swam up over the reef and along the side of the wreck. It was just like a long line of metal boxes.
“Why are they so rusty?” I asked.
“They’ve been here a long, long time, since my great grandpa was an egg.”
“So they’re made of steel – the whole big ship was made of steel – and it gets all rusty when it’s left in the water and the air. And then it falls apart.”
I thought about that, and tried to imagine the ship being a real ship, and then slowly falling apart till there was nothing left but those boxes. And the ghost.
“There,” Frederick said, “see, we’re swimming over the anchor chain. That was in the chain locker in the bow, but the bow’s all gone, and the chains have fallen out onto the reef.”
Anchor Chain at low tide
“Let’s say hi to the ghost,” I said.
“The what?” Frederick said.
“The ghost – right there in the air above the chain.”
Frederick looked at me like I was crazy, and I remembered that most people – and I guess most turtles – can’t see ghosts. I can, of course, because I’m a skeleton, and the ghosts and I have fun together at Halloween back on Cutler Ridge. The water was pretty shallow, so I hopped off Frederick’s back and stood on the Norwich City’s chains to call up to the ghost.
“Hello, Mister Ghost!” I called. He turned and looked at me. He was all filmy and see-through, of course, like ghosts always are, but I could see that he had kind of wild hair and was wearing old pants that were rolled up over his knees.
“allo, Skeleton effendi. It is a pleasure to hear your voice.”
“It’s nice to see you. My name is Gerald; what’s yours?”
“Call me Ismael. ”
“Do you live… er.. stay here on the ship?”
“Yes, effendi. I am in the foc’sle.”
“But there’s nothing there.”
“Nothing you can see, effendi, but I see a nice, comfortable compartment where I used to sleep.”
“Oh. Were you on the ship when it – uh – wrecked?”
“Oh yes, effendi. I was killed that night, in this very compartment. The ship hit the reef going full speed, in a storm, and then it exploded and there was fire….”
“It must have been awful!”
“I’ve gotten over it, effendi.”
“Why do you keep calling me effendi?”
“It is a term of respect in my language, and I am most respectful of all skeletons.”
“Oh, that’s very kind of you – er – effendi. So, are you all alone here?”
“Oh, no. There were six of us killed that night – an English cook and five of us from Yemen and Oman, all firemen.”
“Firemen? With big hats and fire trucks? Why didn’t you put out the fire?”
“No, no, on a ship like this, we firemen kept the fires going that kept the water boiling that made steam that made the engine go that made the screw go ‘round and ‘round and made the ship go….”
“What are trucks?
“Uh – never mind. Where are the others?”
“Oh, they’re – around. They come and go, you know, we ghosts do that. In fact, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for evening prayer. I go into the forest where I can be quiet, and face the holy city Mecca when I pray.”
“What do you pray for?”
“My wife and little children, effendi, and that someday I may see paradise, insh’allah.”
“Well,” I said, “I hope….” But he was gone. Frederick came swimming up and bumped my knee.
“Do you always stand around in water up to your pelvis talking to yourself?”
Norwich City and Naiad, from Nai'a