Harlee is a lively girl who can talk to spirits. John is a dead man who doesn’t believe in ghosts. Together they investigate paranormal activity, supernatural occurrences, and other abnormal things that go bump in the night! Don’t miss out on all the spooky fun as they dive into dark water with their newest case…
A chilly October night on the Mississippi River, a small boat rocked in the dark water. Harlee turned the motor off, and was greeted by the peaceful sound of the waves splashing against the fiberglass hull. “Help me out here, Harl,” said the dead man in the life vest, “Tell me again what the hell it is we are doing out here?!”
Harlee sighed. Her breath looked like smoke from a dragon in the cold night’s air. She turned around from the steering wheel in all seriousness to answer his question, but had to suppress a sudden urge to giggle at the sight of a skeleton in a bright yellow life vest. Underneath it he wore what remained of the suit he was buried in. Black shoes, dark grey pants, a white collared shirt, and a tie that hung loosely around his neck bones. “Is that really necessary?” she asked, pointing to the vest.
“Hey, I’ve seen the way you steer this thing,” the skeleton said, “I may be dead, but that’s no reason to disregard proper boating safety. And I asked you a question first.”
“I already told you, John,” Harlee answered, her blonde hair blowing in the cold wind around her face, “We are here to investigate several reports of a spectral ship being seen recently in this area.”
“Ah yes,” John said, “The case of the missing stern-wheeler. Would you mind refreshing me on the details? I’m still a little drunk from all the pumpkin ale I was enjoying before I was forced aboard the S.S. Minnow in the middle of the night to go look for a ghost ship.”
Harlee rolled her eyes, and smirked at him. “In 1882, a 180-foot-long stern wheel paddle steamer called The Iron Mountain was towing a string of barges from New Orleans to Pittsburg with a crew of fifty-five aboard when it completely vanished without a trace.”
“Oooh,” John sang, shaking his bony hands in the air, “Spooky! Cue The X-Files theme…”
“Another steamer found the barges floating downriver later that day, apparently having been cut loose,” Harlee continued, ignoring the dead man’s sarcasm, “But the Iron Mountain and its crew were never seen nor heard from again.”
“I’ll admit, that IS strange,” John said, shivering, “A ship disappearing on the high seas is one thing, but on a river?”
“Of course, there are several theories as to what happened,” Harlee stated, “Some say the ship ran aground and sank, others say pirates boarded the steamer and killed everyone…”
“Oh, dear,” John said while shaking his skull in disbelief, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
“Riverboat captains whispered about the Iron Mountain for years after it disappeared. They claimed it was sucked into another dimension through a ghostly portal. Others blame the boat’s disappearance on a rip in the fabric of the space-time continuum.”
“Sounds more like a rip in the fabric of sanity if you ask me.”
“Regardless of what the legends say happened, the Iron Mountain is still one of the most famous ghost ships in maritime history! And I believe it wants to make an appearance. I believe it wants to be seen again.”
“For what purpose?”
“That’s what we are going to find out.”
* * * *
The next two hours passed slowly.
They had seen nothing paranormal, or even abnormal, since they left the marina, and Harlee was starting to wonder if they should call it a night after all. She was cold, and at the moment wanted nothing more than a cup of John’s red hot chocolate (regular hot chocolate with Red Hots candy mixed in for a nice cinnamon kick) to warm her up. But on the starboard side he had fallen asleep, and watching him rest in peace suddenly made her feel lonely and tired. Her thoughts were getting sticky. Silver moonlight reflected from the water, and Harlee stared at it in a trance.
Then she saw something. A vibration in the reflection of the moon in the water. She looked up, feeling immediately alert, her hot green eyes searching. In the distance, something very large was headed towards their tiny boat, bringing a trail of grey-white smoke in its wake.
“John!” Harlee shouted/whispered, “Wake up!”
“Wha…huh?” John mumbled as he swam back up from sleep.
“Something is coming!”
John sat up and turned his skull around to where Harlee was pointing, feeling a sense of impending doom. Then he saw it, a paddle steamer with a blue-green aura surrounding it. “No,” John reasoned, “It can’t be.”
“The Iron Mountain,” Harlee declared, as if it could be nothing else.
They both stared at it in awe. The ghost ship was alive again, the stern wheel rotated and the sound of the steam whistle filled the night air. As it came closer, it reminded Harlee of looking at an under-developed photograph. Half in this world, half in the next, she thought. Finally, John turned to face Harlee. “So what exactly is our plan here?”
* * * *
John stared at her for the next twenty seconds in complete silence, expressionless.
Harlee looked into his hollow eye sockets. “You’re glaring at me, aren’t you,” she said.
“YA THINK?! No way I’m jumping onto a giant moving steam boat, hundred and thirty year-old phantom or otherwise! I’m gonna get myself killed! AGAIN!!”
“Relax. I don’t think we’ll need to jump onto anything. That boat is headed straight for us, I say we just let it pass right through.”
“Oh, I like that idea,” John said enthusiastically.
“Really?” Harlee asked, surprised.
“Look, while it’s passing through us, maybe we can try to, you know, reach out to The Iron Mountain. Connect with its spiritual presence, grab a hold of something, anything, and if it’s strong enough maybe we can hitch a ride. Does that make any sense?”
“Not even a little.”
Harlee let out a sigh in frustration, and hung her head down. She was exhausted, and was all out of ideas at the moment. Then she felt a bony hand place itself on her shoulder. “But you are my partner,” John said, his tone without sarcasm, “And I would follow you anywhere, no matter how crazy I thought it was. I got your back, Harlee. So let’s do this.”
Harlee raised her head and smiled at him. “Thanks, John.”
Then they both turned to watch as The Iron Mountain made its way to meet them.
* * * *
The temperature dropped at least fifteen degrees when the ship touched them.
Harlee felt a tremendous force, cold and powerful, pushing its way through her, filling her guts with ice. Completely engulfed in a blue-green light, it was difficult to discern much of the details of the ship in all the spiritual turbulence. Harlee closed her eyes, and raised her arms out to the sides with her hands reaching out. “Holy ship, Harlee!” she heard John scream, “The Iron Mountain did sink after all! Look! There’s a huge hole in it!”
But Harlee kept her eyes closed, and concentrated. The Iron Mountain will have passed them by in a matter of seconds and she had to find something to latch on to. An image of a woman flashed powerfully in her mind, and Harlee seized the opportunity.
* * * *
“Gotcha!” Harlee screamed, as she and the woman she had a hold of hit the deck of The Iron Mountain.
John wiped out as well, confused and disoriented, but quickly regained his control. “I’ll be damned,” he said, as he stood up, taking in the new surroundings, “It worked!”
“John!” he heard Harlee scream, and snapped into action.
“Harlee!” he yelled back, racing over to help her. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said, taking John’s hand to help herself up.
Together they brought the mysterious woman to her feet, steadied her, and slowly took a few steps back to study her. The woman warily watched Harlee and John, but did not move or speak. She looked to be in her early twenties, but Harlee noted her clothing: very old fashioned, perhaps late eighteen hundreds but she couldn’t be sure. “So you think Lady in the Water here is our key to solving this investigation?” John whispered.
“Seems likely,” Harlee responded in a low voice, “There were several reports speculating that a woman, a chambermaid aboard this ship, was caught below decks and killed, sinking with the Iron Mountain while the rest of the crew scrambled onto one of the barges it was towing and escaped. There is a chance this could be her ghost, but we’ll need to question her.”
“Can I be the BAD cop this time?” John asked.
“You’re ALWAYS a bad cop,” Harlee said, stepping towards the woman.
“Hahaha –hey wait a minute!” John said, mildly insulted, and following Harlee with his pointer finger in the air, “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Who are you? And why are you haunting the Mississippi River in this ghost ship?” Harlee asked the woman, trying to sound as diplomatic as possible.
“Yeah and who’s in charge of the cleaning around here,” John added behind her, “This place is a cesspool!”
The woman’s gaze turned fierce. “Who are YOU?” she demanded.
“This is Agent Foxy Mulder,” John said, pointing to Harlee, “And I’m Agent Skully. And WE are asking the questions here, lady.”
John tapped Harlee’s arm, grinning with all teeth, quite pleased with himself, “See what I did there?” he whispered, “I’m ‘Skully’ because-”
“Not now, John,” Harlee said, and again directed her attention to the woman, “We are paranormal investigators. My name is Harlee, and this is John. Do you know what year this is?”
“What year?” the woman echoed, “Any fool knows what year it-”
“Just answer the question,” Harlee interrupted impatiently, and then added, “Please.”
“It’s Eighteen-eighty-two, of course!” the woman snapped.
Harlee and John looked at each other, reading each others thoughts.
“Miss, I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” John said soberly, “But the year is twenty-thirteen.”
“Twenty what?!” she said, her voice booming in anger, “What kind of nonsense is this?!”
Everything seemed to darken, and John and Harlee took a step back in slow motion, not wanting things to get ugly. They had seen it happen before. The thing about ghosts, they don’t like change. It’s hard for the dead to let go of the living sometimes. Most are lost souls who just need a little time to adjust and move on. But every now and then one of them likes to make trouble. This woman had been haunting for a very long time, and they still had no idea what her intentions were.
“Can you tell us the last thing you remember?” Harlee treaded cautiously.
“Well,” she began, her eyes still wild, “I remember…”
Suddenly Harlee and John found themselves in one of the cabins below the deck of the Iron Mountain. The woman stood across from them, but she looked a thousand miles away as she tried to remember. “I was cleaning one of the cabins…” she said, her voice sounding ancient, “And then I heard a crash…no, I FELT a crash, it knocked me on my feet, it did!”
Simultaneously they heard a deep, resounding boom, and Harlee felt her organs float inside her for a second before the force of gravity pulled her back down. The impact caused Harlee and John to lose balance, and they both struggled to remain on their feet. The woman had been knocked down, and appeared to be badly hurt. “What’s happening, Harlee?!” John yelled, trying to help the woman back up.
“I…I remember blood…I was bleeding…” the woman raised her hand to the side of her head, and traced the outline of an ugly cut with her fingertips, “Then there was water rushing…rushing in all around me…”
“It’s a residual haunt,” Harlee explained, having to almost scream over the roar of rushing water filling her ears, “This moment in time is more or less repeating itself. We are witnessing the final moment of what happen to this woman and the Iron Mountain reenacting itself!”
Water surrounded them. “I couldn’t get out,” said the woman, “I was trapped and…I…I knew I was….”
“Dead,” John said, finishing her story for her.
“Yes,” the woman said, realizing she was no longer one of the living.
“C’mon, Harlee, we have to get her out of here before it’s too late!” John exclaimed.
“This moment has already happened,” Harlee said, “There is nothing we can do to change the past, no matter how tragic.”
John gave her a sympathetic look and squeezed the woman’s arm lightly in a frail effort to console her. “I’m so sorry,” he said. Above them was the sound of a stampede of horses.
“Listen, John!” Harlee said, “That noise! Must be the crew running to the barge for safety!”
“You mean… they live?” the woman asked with some hope.
“Oh no, that was over a hundred and thirty years ago,” John stated, “They are certainly dead by now.”
“John!” Harlee snapped.
“I mean, uh, I’m sure they probably lived a lot longer than YOU did, obviously,” John continued, “I’m just saying they’re all long dead by NOW.”
Harlee smacked her face with her palm, and shook her head.
“I mean,” John stumbled on, smiling painfully, “I wish I was dead. Oh wait, I AM. Harlee, you wanna take over for awhile? I’m gonna go flush myself down the toilet.”
“One of them… was my husband,” the woman revealed to them, “I want more than anything to know he survived…but why did he leave me to die in this sinking ship?”
“Surely you are aware that there is no-one left to answer those questions,” Harlee stated sadly.
“Take it from me,” John added sincerely, “Sometimes the past is better left behind.”
“You may never know the answers you seek,” Harlee continued, “Maybe they DID find a way to safety? Maybe they didn’t even know you were trapped below decks until it was too late? Fifty five people are a lot to keep track of in a state of panic. At that point it’s possible the man that loved you could not have saved you even if he had tried. Maybe he didn’t leave you. Maybe YOU left HIM. And I’m sure he carried the weight of your tragedy with him for the rest of his life.”
“You are very wise, Harlee,” said the ghost, “I may never know what happened to my husband, but I know that he loved me. He had to move on in life without me, and so I’ll move on after death without him. I hope someday we will be reunited. But for now, I believe my voyage in this world is finally over. And it’s time to go home.”
Then the woman faded away, but her presence could still be felt as she said goodbye, and Harlee and John found themselves back on their boat, in a calm Mississippi River.
* * * *
“Well,” John said to Harlee as they stood together on the pier, “Spirits bar is still open, shall we celebrate another case closed by sharing a pitcher of brew?”
“Sounds good, Agent Skully,” Harlee said, smiling playfully at John.
“Oh, and they’re having their Halloween party tonight!” John said ecstatically, “I can’t wait to show everyone my costume!”
“Oh boy,” Harlee said, rolling her eyes, “Should I be afraid?”
Harlee looked at him with actual fear in her eyes for the first time that night, “You’re not going as a slutty nurse again, are you…”
The Iron Mountain was a real ship that vanished on the Mississippi River in 1882. What exactly happened to the ship and its crew still remains a mystery.