Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gerald's Adventure, Part Eight

The Continuing Adventure of Gerald the Skeleton on Nikumaroro, 2010

The Excavations Continue

There were just a few days left in the expedition, and some of the TIGHARs were getting pretty worried.  AUV hadn’t found any airplane parts in the lagoon.  ROV had found some metal and rope on the reef (far above Sheel’s home), but it didn’t look like anything from an airplane.  Down at the Seven Site they were finding things – metal and bottles and animal bones, buttons and even pencil lead.  Grandpa Tom reported every evening on what they’d found, and everybody talked about them.  Grandpa Tom and Ric often argued about how to interpret what they found, and Karl kept shouting “I disagree!” just for the fun of it.  Sometimes Gary, Ric, Grandpa Tom or others composed silly songs that they’d sing to keep everybody’s spirits up.  But they weren’t finding what they kept referring to as “the smoking gun” that would prove that Amelia Earhart had been at the Seven Site, or anywhere on Nikumaroro.  It made me feel very conflicted; should I tell them what I knew?  If so, how?  And if I did, what would happen to Sheel and his chum?

One night I crept out of the salon while everybody was on deck playing guitars, singing songs, and watching the star theater.  Down by the stern platform Frederick was waiting; he never told me how he knew I’d be coming.  I slipped over the side, grabbed the edges of his shell, and away we went. 

As we closed in on the Club Fred beach, I could see something going on there.  Two somethings, actually.  AUV was back on the ship, but Honk and Honkette were both there, jumping up and down and flapping their wings.  Their egg had hatched!  Their baby – a pretty big baby bird, all covered with fluffy grayish feathers, was reeling around on unsteady feet, and his parents had their wings full keeping him from running into trees or stumbling and falling on his face. 
Honk and Honkito
But the big excitement was among the ghosts.  They were everywhere!  I’d seldom seen so many ghosts, even on Halloween back in Cutler Ridge.  Adult ghosts and baby ghosts, woman ghosts and man ghosts, all drifting ghostily around among the trees, mostly in groups of three or four.

“Wow!” I burbled, getting water in my mouth and spitting out a small fish.  “What’s going on?”

“Their egg hatched,” Frederick grunted.  “Pretty exciting, in the life of a bird.  Now, when we lay our eggs…..”

“No, I mean the ghosts!”  Then I remembered that he couldn’t see them.  “Oh, never mind – yes, you guys are much calmer about your eggs.”

“Yup, bury ‘em in the sand and hope for the best.  No muss, no fuss.  What ghosts?”

“Oh – uh – I was just thinking about something else.”  I’d seen Ismael and the other Norwich City ghosts sitting under a palm tree talking.  “If you’ll just let me off here at the beach, I think I’ll visit the village again tonight.”

“Suit yourself; I’m going to drift out here in the cove and get some sleep.  Rattle some bones when you’re ready to go back to the ship.”

“Thanks, Frederick; you’re a real friend.”

“Hey, it’s not every day I get to hang out with a skeleton.  Enjoy the village; I hear it’s pretty spooky.”

That was putting it mildly.  Ghosts everywhere, drifting up and down the overgrown streets, sitting around in the ruined house sites, strolling – well, ghosts don’t exactly stroll, but they put on a pretty good imitation – up and down the beach.  I found Ismael and his friends under their tree.

“Salaam aleikum, Ismael effendi,” I said politely, as he’d taught me.

“Gerald effendi; waleikum a salaam.  Praise be to Allah, the merciful and compassionate, who has brought you back to us.”

I bowed to him.  “It is kind of you to speak so, Ismael.  But what is going on?  Why are there so many ghosts?”

“So many?  Oh, Gerald effendi, a thousand pardons; we have not explained.”

“Explained what?”

“We are – uh – always here – all of us.”

“But,” Usama said, raising a filmy finger, “’always’ implies the existence of 'time,' and as we all know…..

“True, true, brother,” and they all began to explain things to me, or to each other; I wasn’t sure which.  I couldn’t really get it all – it was about time and space and what exists and what doesn’t, but I guess the main message was that the ghosts were there on the island all the time, and at the same time in other places, and at the same place in other times, but there were only certain conditions that allowed the reality we experience to connect up with theirs, and tonight those conditions – whatever they were – were right.

“So all these people died here?” I asked, watching what seemed to be a family of ghosts drift by – a lady ghost, a man ghost, a little kid ghost.  The man was telling a story, and his family were laughing.

“It is true,” Ismael nodded, “as did all the crabs, birds, fish….”  I hadn’t noticed it before, but there were ghostly crabs and other animals scurrying around.  I looked for Polly, but all I could see were ghosts.

The village in 1942.  Lots of brave people died here, so there are lots of ghosts
“Most of the people ghosts were colonists from other islands, may peace be upon them.  And then there are a few – there, for example – “  He pointed a misty finger at the beach, where two male ghosts were drifting along, deep in conversation.  Both were tall and thin; one wore khaki shorts and a starched white shirt, and the other was in dark shirt and pants.

“There, for example, are Gallagher effendi and Captain Noonan.  Salaam aleikum, my friends.”

Gerald Gallagher himself?  And Captain Noonan!  Could that be Fred Noonan?  Amelia Earhart’s navigator?  The two ghosts came drifting over, smiling.

“Waleikum asalaam,” they both said politely, with little bows. 

“Welcome to Nikumaroro, Mister Skeleton,” Mister Gallagher added.  “I’ve not seen you here before.”

“Thank you, Mister Administrator, and greetings.  Yes, I’ve been here only a few weeks, with the TIGHAR group out there on the ship….”

Captain Noonan slapped his forehead and shook so hard his ectoplasm almost dissolved.  He was laughing.

“Those poor numbskulls,” he chortled, “looking for Amelia and me, and that bloody Electra.”

“Well,” I said, somewhat offended for my friends, “what’s wrong with that?  You’re obviously here.”

“Oh indeed we are.  But frankly, Mister Bones, who gives a….”

“Now, now, Fred,” Mister Gallagher put his spectral hand on Captain Noonan’s filmy shoulder.  “What Captain Noonan means, Mister – er….”

“My name’s Gerald, sir; actually Grandpa Tom named me after you.”

“Well, I’m – er – honored, I’m sure.  Anyway, Gerald, what Captain Noonan meant was…”

“Really Gerald,” Noonan interrupted, talking to Mister Gallagher, “I’m capable of explaining it myself.  Look, Gerald, we’re dead, aren’t we?  Myself and Amelia?”

“Of course, sir,” I said quickly, “there’s no denying that.”

“So they’re not going to find us alive, are they?  Rescue us or something?”

“No, but they’re looking for evidence…..”

“Ah, and that’s what’s so endlessly amusing.  Watching them find something we left – like pieces of Amelia’s compact, or that pot she kept her freckle cream in, and puzzle and puzzle about what they are, so earnest and taking it all so seriously….”

“And of course what’s even funnier,” Mister Gallagher put in, “is watching them puzzle over things you DIDN’T leave, but WE did, or the Coast Guardsmen did, all with the same sort of earnestness, wondering if it could be yours….”

“And you know, Gerald effendi,” Ismael added, “it is really something of an insult to Gallagher effendi, and to us from the Norwich City, and to all the brave colonists who died here, for your friends to be so…so...”

“Fixated,” Mister Gallagher offered.

“Fixated.  Thank you.  Fixated on Amelia hanum and Fred effendi.  Are we all not equal in the sight of Allah?”

“Indeed we are, Ismael effendi “ – the voice came from behind my shoulder, and made me jump.  “But not in the sight of American public opinion.”

“Salaam aleikum, Amelia hanum,” all the Arab ghosts said in unison, while Mister Gallagher made a slight bow and Captain Noonan raised a hand to his brow.

She came into the loose circle of ghosts and looked at me.  A slender ghost with short curly hair and a checked shirt.  Just like her pictures in the books the TIGHARs kept consulting.

“So,” she said, “you’re with those TIGHAR types, are you….”


“Named after our Gerald?  That shows a little class, but you've a lot to live up to."  Mr. Gallagher made a dismissive hand wave, as Ms. Earhart went on.

"So tell me, Gerald, why do they want to find us?  They know we’re dead, yes?”

“Oh yes, but what happened to you is a great mystery.  People wonder about it, argue about it ….”

“Yes, I’ve heard about it from my mother and sister since they came over – all the wild stories about being captured by the Japanese, or being so incompetent that I – we, sorry Fred – ran out of gas and went into the drink.”

“Well, so the TIGHARs want to solve the mystery.  And they think you landed and died here.”

“So, you can tell them they’re right, and they can stop wasting money coming here and disturbing the birds and crabs.”

“Oh, Amelia,” Captain Noonan objected.  “It gives us something to make jokes about.”

“And,” Mister Gallagher smiled, “it’s rather fun to throw false clues in their paths.”

Captain Noonan chuckled:  “Or clues that aren’t quite false, like that shoe.”

“The shoe they found in 1991,” I asked, “that looked like Miss -- er, Mrs. Putnam’s but was too big?”

“Right,” Ms Earhart giggled.  “My shoe all right, but part of the pair I wore with thick socks when it was cold in the plane, so bigger than the ones they had pictures of.  Has that confused them as much as we planned?”

“Oh yes, it was very embarrassing when one of the people who thinks you crashed in the sea pointed out how the size was wrong.  They still argue about that.

“Good, good.  Argument keeps their brains alive.  But I’m really of two minds, Gerald, about whether to let them find us – or find the plane.  Find definitive proof.  What do you think?”

“Why not?”

“Well, it would bring the mystery to an end, wouldn’t it?  And don’t you think people need mysteries?”

“I don’t know.  I’m a plastic lab skeleton.”

"But a very well made one, I must say."  I would have blushed if plastic could blush.

"And a modest, brave and wise one, Gerald effendi," Ismael said with a bow.  But Amelia hanum, surely it is not for us to decite whether the TIGHARs will learn the truth.  Such decisions surely lie only with Allah, the all-knowing."

"Well, to avoid another interminable theological debate, Ismael -- granting that we have ample 'time' for such things -- let me just take the matter under advisement.  Perhaps I'm being selfish...."

"It would be a shame if the TIGHARs stopped coming," Mr. Gallagher mused.  "They're endlessly amusing."

There was a bit of a silence, as though everyone were recalling a favorite TIGHAR episode.  Then Mr. Gallagher shook himself.

"In any event, Gerald, I'm delighted to be your namesake, and very pleased that you've come to talk with us.  Very glad to have met you.”

“Goes for me too,” Captain Noonan reached out to shake my hand.  “But I’m afraid the sun’s coming up, and they’re likely to miss you if you don’t get back to the ship.”  He stepped over to the beach and let out a shrill whistle.  In just a couple of minutes Frederick came swimming up, looking confused.
TIGHARs head for the beach in the morning; I had
to be back aboard before they got up.


  1. Tom; This is so much fun, I can hardly express myself. I really admire your ability (maybe NEED) to let your mind wander into fantasy (or is it?) like this.

    Tim Smith

  2. Thanks, Tim. "Need" is the word, I think; it's a lot of fun, unwinding, and actually productive, sometimes, of relevant(?) ideas. Though of course, all I do is edit Gerald's posts to my grandsons.