Vessels Of The Night
It was a two mile walk from the party, until we came off the road across from a nightclub fronted by sleek cars and loud patrons. I followed Benny, “the cigar store Indian,” down through an abandoned cemetery and along a trail sided by cattails, toward the placid Arthur Kill. It was lit by the moon and stars and lights from the refineries across the water. Grounded just off the immediate shore were the ruins of wooden and steel vessels.
The old homeless man sprung up onto the shell of a rusted steel barge. He maneuvered swiftly over the hull to a grounded wooden ship, seeming to dance around various missing and cracked deck boards. He sprung out to a salvaged tugboat, moving to the port side. I hurried along and found him at the stern of a buoyant, old oyster sloop. The craft’s sails hung loosely.
I jumped down next to Benny and sent the boat rocking. I dropped a hand onto the cabin top to steady myself. He snapped up a rope, twirled and then pulled it taught, sending up the sails. We were hardly in the boat a few moments, when an ethereal figure stirred in the bow. He looked like a living, breathing person, yet one that was standing in a much darker place. He was a ghost, or something worse. He wore a very fashionable, long red coat, which was of an old military style. Benny did not seem alarmed, so I knew he was an expected guest.
I leaned my butt against the cabin and admired a brightly lit dock on the Staten Island shore. There wasn’t a single boat moored to it. I thought about how at the party lady friend had seemed perfectly “ok,” when I said I was headed off with Benny. I regretted not telling her it was to see an old friend, who was now a demon. I didn’t want to text her. What would I say? “Hi babe, just to let you know, I’m armed with a rusted spike and prepared to kill demons. TTYL.” Better she didn’t know…
As far as the man in the bow, he had sat down on the cabin and folded his legs Indian style. He was slight of build, a little shorter than Benny, maybe five foot five. The light off the water outlined his hooked nose in blue. I remembered “the nose”, and then the man. I had first met him about 150 years ago. I stared at the nose a moment longer. He was old Dan Tucker.
I’m f—ed! If my mind was a string, it would have broken in two. Old Dan was a lunatic. More importantly, I remembered that 150 years ago, I had believed he was an opportunist. He had been a bit too friendly with Toren the Bloody. If Benny and I were out numbered tonight, would he die fighting on our side? (Yes. Ghosts can die. They can bleed and feel pain, too. And some, but not all, can kill. Don’t ask me to explain. I’m no expert. Maybe someday I’ll have Benny explain it to you.) What had I gotten into…
There came a burst of pain in my skull. I winced and tried to calm, wishing the pain would dissipate.
We were in the middle of the tidal strait. The blue crescent moon seemed close enough to touch. The stars were crisp and twinkled. The night reminded me of nights spent up at a cabin in the Catskills. When I dropped my gaze, I was surprised by the change in light sources. It seemed we had been magically transported from the strait to a river that cut through a mysterious forest. The shoreline growth was now heavy, dark, and thick. I cast an accusing eye at Benny. The old homeless man wore a mask of concern and didn’t see my gaze.
The lights on the shores had dimmed, yet they were still “almost there.” I could smell wood smoke, where as minutes ago the tang of the dirty strait was very strong. To my further dismay, on the Staten Island shoreline, I now spotted camp fires. It looked like a Boy Scout jamboree. Yet no one in their right mind would camp out on the Arthur Kill shore. The only action crazier, would be to swim in the murky waters.
There were now more crafts on the water, but they were nebulous. I could no longer see either the Outerbridge or the Goethals. Those two bridges of steel had simply vanished along with their blinking lights. All the artificial light was now gone. But I just couldn’t be certain. My brain was fogged, that was for sure.
A steady breeze ballooned the sails. We were moving swiftly now. Rippling water sounded in our wake.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“The Kill Van Kull,” Benny said.
There came the echo of a distant explosion. It was low and menacing. Benny looked out over the waters as if he could see for hundreds of miles.
“Come on Benny, what’s going on?”
“We’re moving from the present, back to the past.”
Benny stared at something for a moment. He reached down, while looking cautiously over the waters, and pulled back a hemp tarp. He lifted a bundled up red coat and tossed it to me. I then watched him put on a long red coat, while I unrolled mine to find grey woolen trousers, a cotton white, long sleeve shirt, and worn leather boots.
“A Boston Redsox uniform,” I said, managing a smile. “What do you me to do with it? Burn it?”
“Put it on,” he said.
“How long will we be gone?” I asked. “I gotta work this week.”
“With the light of the sun, you’ll wake in your bed,”
“But I’ll come for you each night. We must finish the job.”
“The job? What job? What about Jack Jefferies?”
“I didn’t tell the entire truth. I’ve seen Jack in the present. But he is not our concern. I said what I said to get you to come with me.”
“What are we going to do?”
“We must kill a very nasty creature.”
“And you need me.”
“It’s what you do.”
“I’m a killer.”
He gave a solemn, boyish grin. “You have been one for a very long time.”
“What happens If I die in the past?”
“You’ll still wake in the morning,” he said, his voice growing quiet.
“Put the clothes on, I’m not certain.” He muttered as he scanned the horizon. “Nothing is ever certain.”
I dropped my Polo shorts and put on the woolen trousers, then the shirt, before stepping into the boots. “Nice that you know my size.”
“Ok,” I said, slipping on the red coat. The clothes were rank with body odor. “What can happen if I die in the past?”
“To corner and kill one demon, is like kicking a hornet’s nest of them. If you die in the past, you will be branded as weak. Some may chose to find you in the present and exact their revenge. Who knows? Maybe they’ll haunt your attic. Maybe they’ll watch you from a far. But they won’t be afraid of you.”
“Wonderful, simply flipping wonderful.”
“You don’t remember everything. It’s a blessing.”
“I don’t want this.”
“Too late. We are holy vessels of the night.”
“And we are strong, very strong with the Lord.”
“Wonderful to hear.”
“We’ve been doing this a long time. Few are better, luckier, and more blessed than the two of us. It’s why we live on. Old Dan cannot say the same. He has been dead many years.”
“Is that why he’s so quiet?”
“Yes, but he’ll be fully alive when we arrive in the past.”
I shrugged and sniffed. “You could have dunked these clothes in the water at least. They smell like rotting vegetables. Maybe the smell is normal to you, ya’ homeless old bastard. Because someone died in these.”
Benny’s eyes opened wide. I turned and covered my head with my arms. A dragon flew toward us with its mouth open wide! A half-second later, I realized it was a figurehead affixed to the spar of a massive wooden clipper ship. It had appeared out of thin air and was less than twenty feet away. Muttering voices stirred in the air. Someone was drunk and singing. The ship was very hazy, more like the shadow of a ship. Then for a few seconds, it became solid looking, but only after it fully passed us.
“We’re not there yet,” Benny said.
“Where exactly are we going?” I asked.
“To the past,” he said.
“I got that. But the Redsox uniforms. Is there a time or a date in particular where we’re headed?”
“Headed straight for the Battle of New York,” I said.
“Demons love war.”