Phantom Tide



Original poster

Phantom Tide


n the small seaside town of Portsmouth, Virginia, a secret has been kept for generations. Since the time when settlers first came to this isolated part of the Chesapeake Bay coastline, the community has been plagued by what some call a curse. Once every fifty years or so, a storm of biblical proportions rolls in from the sea. What know one knows, except perhaps the elderly members of the community who may have been children old enough to remember the last storm, is that this storm brings with it more than just inclement weather. Within its pale mists and driving rains, the spirits of the dead lost at sea are said to roam freely for as long as the storm lasts. The terrible secret know only by a select few residents of Portsmouth, which they keep guarded from most of the community as well as outsiders, is that the storm will not subside until more souls are added to the number of the dead claimed by it over countless past years.

The date is now November 4th, 2011, and the people of Portsmouth have no idea of the terrible forces that are about to fall upon them.......
[spacer]Albert[/spacer] Williams was 72 years old, and he had never been reminded better of that fact than he was right now. The aching in his joints had started as soon as he rolled out of bed that morning, and it had persisted all day. Even now, it was almost sunset and he still could still feel a dull throbbing in his knees. He had sat down on one of several benches situated along the pier that jutted out into Portsmouth harbor nearly two hours ago, hoping a brief rest would help to ease his pain. Try as he might, he just couldn't make himself get up and walk back to the small house situated high upon the hill in the center of town that he called home. Each time he thought about it, he could feel a twinge of pain start to flare back up somewhere new. It was as if something was keeping him there, although it certainly wasn't himself. He rarely staid out this late. A few hours from now, as a matter of fact, Albert would propably start drifting off to sleep. Or at least he would if he was in his favorite armchair next to the fireplace at home. There was no danger of him doing that here, however. The cold, bracing wind that had begun to blow in from the sea would make sure of that.

[spacer]Wondering[/spacer] just where the sudden wind was coming from, Albert turned to looked out over the harbor and out towards the ocean. He was relieved when a jagged current of agony didn't rip through his neck and shoulders, but that relief soon died away when he noticed what was developing out along the horizon. Dim, grey clouds were starting to come together far out over the ocean. Knowing that no storms had been predicted by this morning's weather forecast, Albert wondered just what this sudden change in the atmosphere meant. It was true that this was hurrican season, but their hadn't been a major storm since... well, as far back as he could remember.

[spacer]But[/spacer] you know that's not true. It startled him to hear the voice inside of his head. Albert began to wonder if he was going crazy in his old age in addition to his body breaking down. The voice that seemed to come from nowhere into his thoughts was right though, it now occurred to him. There had been one terrible storm a long, long time ago. He must have been about five at the time when what seemed like the storm of the century blew into Portsmouth and proceeded to cut the town off from the outside world for nearly a week and a half. People had died then, and the stories he had heard about how those people lost their lives had terrified him as a child.

[spacer]Probably[/spacer] just a sudden winter storm, though. No need to worry, he assured himself. That storm from long ago had been a one in a million occurence, he was almost certain. There was little to no chance that something like that could happen again in the same place. Still, doubt seemed to weigh heavy on his mind...

[spacer]Turning[/spacer] his gaze away from the sea, Albert told himself he shouldn't worry so much. At his age, you could never tell what might set off a heart-attack or stroke. A little frustrated with himself, he sighed deeply and once again decided he should be getting home. But... maybe it wouldn't heart to stay a few more minutes, no matter how bad the weather was getting. It almost seemed to him like he was waiting for something, although he had no idea what exactly. Maybe he could force himself to get around and go back home before it was too late, but for now he would just keep sitting here, thinking to himself and enjoying the quiet solace of the deserted pier.

It had been 15 years since she'd last been to Portsmouth, VA. Not since her mother and grandmother had a terrible falling out about one thing or another. Her mother had grown up in the small seaside town, but her grandparents (least her grandmother) still lived in the same log-cabin house inland. Her mother was stubborn and refused to return to the 'silly little town', even with her own father's passing. She would send a card and her condolences, but wouldn't show up for the funeral. Annabella, on the other hand, wasn't going to be so cold. Besides, she needed a little get away from her crumbling life as it was. So, 15 years since her last visit, she planned a trip out to Portsmouth to stay with her grandma and attend her grandfather's funeral.

The wake had been that day, and people had been very generous. Annabelle enjoyed listening to the stories about her grandfather at the wake, and it was good to see her grandmother, despite the circumstances. It was a time of mourning and a time of celebration. Her grandmother was put slightly at ease that at least her favorite grandchild came out, since her own daughter wouldn't. "Mom's just stubborn, you know that. She gets it from you two." Annabella tried to comfort her grandma, and it did some. Annabella was a 25 year old female who needed some new direction in her life. She'd gone to culinary school and opened her own restaurant, but things happened and she was forced to close down. Times were hard for her, also, after a rough break-up with her fiance and the troubles with her parents, so coming to Portsmouth was a good getaway for her. Her grandmother offered to let her stay there as long as she needed to get back on her feet.

Currently, she was standing in the parking lot of the funeral home where her grandfather's wake had been. The guests had mostly cleared out and her grandmother wanted to spend some time alone with her grandfather. Annabella, known as Anna or Anne by most (unless you wanted to be smacked), turned in the direction of the sea coast. They were about a little ways inland, but she could still feel the cool sea breeze hit her face and smell the waters. There was an extra cold breeze coming in and it looked like it may storm within the next few days, "I hope it's not a bad storm..." she mused softly to herself, thinking nothing more of it as she got into her car and began to drive to her grandmother's cabin home.

Bethany had just put Matthew to bed. He was her youngest, almost five years old. Matthew had wanted to go to sleep early because tomorrow was his birthday. The little man was especially excited because it would be his first with friends. "Don't let the dust bunnies bite." She joked before shutting the door. Bethany had always warned Matthew that the dust bunnies would get him if he got up without letting them know in the middle of the night. It seemed cruel, but it prevented accidents like the boy falling down the stairs when he was four. They had tried it on Catherine, his older sister, and it worked. But now she was fourteen. Made-up excuses had stopped working.

Up in her room, Catherine was finishing her homework. She was an exemplary student, like her mother. Then again, it helps when one is the daughter of a high-school teacher. Bethany taught English, Drama, and Arts, all programs in which Catherine excelled. That day, however, she had Math homework of all things. So, it was her father's duty to help. Her father, Rod, was also a high-school teacher; but of maths and sciences. He had the pleasure of educating Catherine on the wonders of geometry and fractions. "Oh joy." Bethany muttered as she caught a fragment of her long-winded husband's lesson on long-division.

She continued down the stairs, buttoning her jacket as she went into the dark. The downstairs lights were off. No one had been down there since the kids got back from school. Bethany flicked a light switch on as she stepped from the stairs into the kitchen. It smelled of pumpkin pie. Rod had made it, for his school's bake-sale. As Bethany made her way to the door he called out from upstairs. She turned around to watch as he walked down. The heavy blue-eyed man greeted her with condolence. Although they worked at the same high-school, the only high-school in Portsmouth, they had met nineteen years ago when they were students. They had been together since they were eighteen, and had always lived in that town. It was hard to believe it had been seventeen years since a good friend had tied their lives together, a good friend that Bethany was off to see. Rod knew, as she always visited on this time of the year. But someone had to stay to watch the children.

"Going to the lighthouse?"

"Yeah. But don't worry Hun. I'll bring you back some chips."

"Salt and Vinegar." He teased.

"Of course" Beth smiled as Rod gave her a quick peck on the cheek before she left.

She drove down the same road she'd been travelling down for thirty-five years. They had finally paved it. So it wasn't bumpy like before. Toward the coast Bethany noticed a storm was blowing in. As a preventative measure, she let some anti-freeze onto the windshield. The horizon was blurred into her window, but she could still make out the tall lighthouse in the distance. It was on a cliff near, but well above the pier. The light was on, much earlier than usual likely due to the approaching weather. As Bethany approached she noticed her car was the only one parked in the lot before the path leading to the lighthouse. It was strange, because as far as she knew the lighthouse was not automated. But then perhaps the keeper's car was out for repair.

Out of her car, and already up the hill, Bethany stood beside the lighthouse. There was a boardwalk there, installed recently to promote tourism. It was small but had tables and a large wooden railing to keep people from falling off. She walked out onto it, the cool wind billowing back her hair. Beth curled her arms tightly around a bouquet of purple carnations. The decorative paper they were wrapped in crumpled as she pressed them against her chest. Taking a deep breath, she moved quickly toward the railing and released the flowers into the wind. Beth leaned forward and watched as they tumbled down to the waves and rocks below. For but a few moments the carnations floated before being swept under by the waves.

She stood there, quietly, coldly staring down at the water. The warmth of her features faded as a chilly breeze brushed past her face. Holding herself for heat, Beth paused as she took time to remember her friend, on a day she deserved remembrance.
Albert had just about decided it was time for him to go home and settle in for the evening when he noticed the girl standing at the end of the pier. He hadn't seen her walk past him to get there, but he supposed that was because he had been lost in reverie while sitting on the bench. She was standing awfully close to the edge, and from what he could see of her she appeared to be soaked to the bone, her hair damp and clinging and the back of the plain white dress she was wearing, which also looked drenched. This was no doubt because of the increasingly large waves that were now crashing against the end of the pier, spraying foam hight into the air before it fell leaving flecks of white strewn across the wooden surface. They were driven by the approaching storm, which by now had darkened the sky over the entire bay.

He began to walk towards her, thinking he would warn her to move back lest she loose her footing the next time a wave came up, causing her to lose balance and fall into the churning shallows. As he approached her, he could now see that she was even more severely drenched than she had seemed from afar. Water was dripping from her arms as they hung limply at her side. She was slightly hunched over, most likely from the bone-piercing cold she must have been feeling. Worse, Albert saw that she wasn't wearing any shoes. The poor girl had to be freezing! He moved to help her, even though he had no jacket or a spare set of shoes to offer. He had to say something, though. What she was doing was dangerous, insane even, considering the weather.

"You really shouldn't let yourself get soaked like that, miss. That's a surefire way to catch your death during a storm like this."

She didn't seem to react to his words at all, not turning around or making any motion at all to acknowledge his presence. He moved closer, reaching out with one arm to gently touch her on the shoulder. Suddenley she spoke, her voice even and eerily calm despite appearing so bedraggled.

"The Storm... The Storm is coming."

Albert was about to agree with her and remind her again that this was precisely why she needed to move back when suddenly she leapt from the end of the pier and fell down into the grey-green waters that lapped against the first of the massive pylons that supported it. It had happened to fast for Albert to react and stop her, and all he could do now was call out to her and tell her he would go and get help, but when he looked down to see where she had fallen, there was no sign of her. He stared into the murky shallows for several minutes, shouting out in hopes that she would respond and reveal where she was. In the end though there was still no evidence of where she might have gone or indeed that she had ever been there to begin with.

Bewildered and dazed by what had just happened, Albert stood at the end of the pier in shock. After a moments pause, he looked out over the roiling waters of Portsmouth Bay and wondered to where she could have disappeared. It occurred to him he should tell someone, but what exactly would he tell them? That he had witnessed some mysterious girl dive off the pier and then vanish? What's more, he had no idea of who she was. He had never even clearly seen her face. No, he couldn't tell anyone. They would just think his mind had gone soft in his old age, or that he was crazy or even just a liar.

Still, he was left with the feeling that he should do something, even if it meant his reputation would suffer in the end. Deciding that the best thing he could do right now would be to go home and give it a good night's rest before he even thought about telling anyone what he thought he had seen..It was all he could do, really. As he made his way back across the pier and to the road, he wondered what her words were supposed to mean. Even if it had all just been some kind of strange hallucination or daydream, what was it supposed to mean to him. Pondering this mystery, he thought to himself, The Storm is coming... Yes, I suppose it is... and what is it bringing with it?
The wind picked up as clouds closed inland. Beyond the coast there was barely any light, only the shadows cast down by the approaching storm. Beth cautiously observed as the beams sent out by the lighthouse were swallowed up by the darkness. She thought it strange, but was more concerned with the weather itself. Rod usually kept her up to date on these things. He was always watching the local radar from his computer. She decided it would be best if she called to warn him. Pulling the cellphone from her purse, Beth called home.

"Hey Rod. Yes, Yes, I haven't forgotten. Listen. It's looking pretty bad out here. Make sure all the windows are closed and pull the patio furniture inside. Have some flashlights ready just in case the power goes out."

As she conversed with her husband, Bethany paced about the boardwalk. The planks creaked beneath each of her steps, heels making a 'thud' sound each time they met wood. It was cold, so the breaths she took clouded before her, rising up before being blown away. It was becoming harder to hear Rod. With the wind and the waves whirling and crashing, Beth realized she wouldn't be able to stay much longer.

"Alright. I'll see you later Hun. I need to get going now. Love you." She said, closing her cellphone.

However, as Bethany put her cellphone away she heard something strange. It was a faint whisper coming from the cliff-side. Eerie, yet familiar, it beckoned her to the ledge facing the pier. She surveyed the coast, quickly, to see anything out of place. But she saw nothing but an old man standing dangerously close to the sea. Beth thought to call out to him, to warn him. But she had more important things to do.

Her husband and children were waiting. Matthew might get upset if the power went out, Catherine would use it as an excuse not to finish her homework; Rod was too soft on the girl. They were pains, they were pleasures, they were the people that gave meaning to her life. She would find no meaning there, on the cliffs. So Beth headed home, leaving just as a faint splashing sound could be heard in the distance.

Down from the lighthouse and into her car, Bethany let her sedan heat up. Her body was cold from being outside so long. Beth wished she'd brought a hot thermos of coffee. She'd hold the container close to her face, letting the warm air heat her cheeks and nose. Instead, she curled down into her seat, absorbing the dry heat of the fans below. As her legs warmed, Bethany's eyes focused up through the windshield. It had become foggy due to the change in temperature. Rising up from her comfort, Beth wiped away the residue to reveal the lighthouse. Something had changed about it. The door was wide open and blowing in the wind. BANG, BANG, BANG! She heard it go as the door slammed. It was giving her a headache. Beth decided it would be best she leave and call the lighthouse keeper as soon as she got home.

Pulling out of the lot, she made her way back home. Beth would have to stop at the corner store along the way. Rod was expecting chips, and the convenience store would also have coffee for herself. Maybe she'd pick the kids up something as well, a treat if they were good. But it appeared she would be making a second stop before getting home. She saw the man from the pier. He was walking alongside the road. Beth recognized him, as Portsmouth was a small town, but couldn't quite recall his name. Pulling up alongside him, she put her window down.

"You need a ride home? This storm looks like it's going to be pretty bad." Bethany asked, poking her head out the side of her car.

In a small town like Portsmouth people knew each other, even just in passing. It wasn't unusual for one to act neighbourly and offer assistance.

It was starting to get dark as she headed through the winding roads to the cabin house. Her grandparents had enjoyed the seclusion of their home, but it had always been such a long drive. No matter, at least it gave Annabella time to gather her thoughts on everything going on in her life. When her mother found out she was going to Portsmouth to stay with her grandmother instead of back home, she laid into Anna telling her it was a big mistake. Anna never knew why once her mother had the chance to get out of Portsmouth she did, Anna had always enjoyed the place and thought it was quite scenic. Even now as the sun was disappearing and dark storm clouds were gathering in the distance, the landscaping still held a dark beauty to it. The winding roads, and the wooded areas, mixed with the light amount of fog rolling in from the distant waters made it somehow breathtaking to Anna.

Lost in her own thoughts a moment she turned her attentions back to the road before her, which was rarely traveled this far out these days, only to be quite frightened by a figure standing in the middle of the road. She only got a split second look at the person, but it appeared to be an older gentleman dressed in what looked like victorian era clothing, complete with cane and top hat. He simply turned and looked toward her as she was driving down, their eyes locked for that split moment and she almost froze. However, her panic overrode this urge to freeze up, and she slammed her foot on the brake and swerved to avoid him. Her small pontiac screeched to the side and spun out but she managed to avoid hitting anything, or at least she didn't feel like she hit anything. Her heart racing, she unbuckled her seat belt, leaving the car idling as she got out of the car and looked around, "Hello?! Sir!" she called out, but there was no one on the mist filled roads before her. Had she just been imagining that? No, she saw someone...she had to have.

Quite shaken, she got back into her car and righted herself as she continued down toward home. She was more keen to keep a diligent eye on the road now instead of let her mind wander as if often did. That man...who was he and where on earth did he go? 10 minutes later she finally pulled into the driveway without further incidents. Her mind had finally calmed and for now she was jut going to leave it at what it was. Grabbing some things from her trunk, she locked her car and headed inside. When she attempted to flip the lights on, nothing happened. "Oh go figures!" she muttered as she clumsily fumbled through the dark to get to the kitchen. Her grandmother always kept some spare flashlights in one of the man junk drawers in the kitchen. Setting her things on the counter in passing, she found a flashlight as she shinned it around.

"man...this place is sort of creepy without power" she muttered as she prepared to head to the cellar to check the circuit breakers. Just as she was about to head down there was a knocking on the door. Startled she sighed, "damn I'm jumpy today--Just a minute!" she called and moved to open the door. If she wasn't shocked before she certainly was shocked now at who was standing there. It was the strange gentleman she thought she was going to hit earlier! She stared at him a moment rather confused and lost for words. He didn't really say much and his gaze was almost vacant as he lazily made eye contact with her, "Beware the's coming" he said in a rather creepy tone.

"Excuse me sir. Are you alright? Can...Can I call a cab or something for you? Sir?" Instinctively she took a step back and closed the door slightly but kept it open enough that he may still speak. "Beware the storm. It's coming. Prepare yourself." He said again, his words starting to freak her out. She began to close the door again, "I'm sorry, I'm goign to have to ask you to leave sir!" she began to close the door fully but he placed his foot in the door last moment to stop her, his gaze drew to hers once again, "Beware...they're coming." He said before pulling his foot out. Annabella slammed the door shut and locked it as she grabbed her flashlight and the nearest object to use as a weapon (which happened to be an umbrella). Her heart pounding she unlocked the door and opened it to swing, but the man seemed to have vanished already. She stared out into the fog, a light mist starting to fall, before stepping back and locking the door once again.

Fumbling around for her phone she was preparing to call the local police when it rang and her cellphoen flung from her hand. Scrambling for it she picked it up, "h..hello?" she said trying to remain calm. It was her grandmother. After explaining the situation her grandmother assured her she was on her way and to not worry. Keep the doors locked, switch the circuit breaker, and remain calm. Those were her instructions. Nodding and trying to hold back some tears, she hung up her cellphone and hurried downstairs to turn the lights back on. When everything was set, the house was light up as Annabella went to the living room to sit on the couch and simply wait for her grandmother. She grabbed a kitchen knife just in case. Who or what the hell was that man... she kept pondering nervously to herself. More so....what on EARTH was he rambling about?
Albert was walking down the road, bracing himself against the bitterly cold wind that blew against his body, when a car approached and stopped next to him. The woman inside rolled down her window and offered him a ride home. He stood there for a moment contemplating whether or not that was a good idea for him. People were always trying to take advantage of senior citizens these days, nothing being worse than those borderline-harassing telemarketing calls he sometimes received while home alone. He didn't recognize the woman at first glance, and he was a little unsure about accepting a ride from a stranger.

Still, Portsmouth was a fairly small town. Chances were she was the relative of someone he had known all his life, or at the very least someone who had been living in the town for several years. Albert figured he could trust just about anybody who lived in Portsmouth, so why would he start making exceptions now? After all, she was right, the storm was getting worse, and he might not make it home before the worst of it set in.

Deciding she seemed trustworthy enough, he said "Y'know what? I would like that very much." A few minutes later, he had climbed inside and they were now riding slowly along the road into town. The warmth from the car's heater was a welcome chance from the hoary conditions outside, and soon Albert was quite comfortable. Feeling at ease, he decided to try and start up a conversation to help pass the time.

"Thank you for the ride, miss. This is awfully kind of you." Looking across the car at her, he still couldn't quite place who she was. He had a vague sense that he might have seen her somewhere in town before, but couldn't put a name to her face.

As he sat there, the memory of what had just happened to him resurfaced in his mind. Albert felt so bewildered by what he had seen, he felt like he had to tell someone. It probably wasn't a good idea to do so now, however, seeing that he was probably just now meeting this woman for the first time. If he brought it up to her, she might regret having ever offered him a ride to begin with, and he did not relish the idea of being put back out into the storm. For now, he would just have to go with a safer, more mundane topic of conversation instead.

"So... you live in Portsmouth? How long you been in town, if you don't mind my asking?" he queried.
Bethany welcomed the old man into her car with a friendly smile. He reminded her of her grandfather; so seeing him walk alongside the road, in the cold, struck a heart string. She also sympathized, having been outside only a few minutes ago. Beth turned the heat up as the old man climbed inside. He seemed to appreciate it as much as she had earlier. Getting the directions to his home, they made their way to the house on the hill in the middle of town.

The old man didn't live too far from Bethany. Her home was just down from the hill, near city hall. So when he thanked her, she assured him it was no trouble at all. "Hey. No worries. People need to look out for each other. Besides, you don't live too far from my house." Beth was glad to have the company. Friendly faces lifted her spirits, and the old man was making conversation. She'd have no troubles answering any of his question.

"Oh, I don't mind at all. I've lived here all my life. Well. Most of my life. I spent a few years in Canada when I went to university." Every now and then, Beth would take her eyes from the road and speak directly to the old man. At the same time she would check all the mirrors, making sure there was no one speeding up from behind. "So. About Thirty years now." Beth lied. It had been thirty-five. But she had to try. "I'm a teacher at PHS, so if you've any grandchildren I probably teach them Drama, English, . . ." About to continue, Bethany stopped when she noticed something strange in her rear-view mirror.

A bag was sitting in the rear dash. Beth hadn't seen it there before. It was black, crocheted, with a white asphodel embroidered on the front. The bag wasn't hers, but she recognized it. It had belonged to a friend, that friend, the friend she had just gone to visit. That friend, her name was Jenny. She died eighteen years ago when she slipped and fell from the ledge near the lighthouse. It had been just as long since Beth last saw that bag. Yet there it was, and there she was driving, tongue tied. Her cheeks flushed red when she realized that she'd fallen silent for almost a minute.

"S-Sorry about that. I've got a lot on my mind right now. Today's been a bit strange. I think it's the weather. I wasn't expecting anything like this." It had been an odd day, or at least an odd hour. Little things were popping up everywhere. The cliffs, the lighthouse, the bag, all seemed a bit, if entirely off. And then, upon closer examination of the old man, there appeared to be another strange coincidence.

"I hope you don't mind that I'm making a quick stop. I need to pick up a few things for my family."

Beth pulled into the parking lot of Phillips Family Convenience Store. It was the only convenience store in town, which for some was an inconvenience. But they were open twenty-four hours a day and carried all the essentials. Turning off the car, Beth unlocked all the doors and windows with a single flick of a button. "Hey. I'm getting a coffee for myself. I don't know if you drink coffee, but, if you'd like. . ." She stopped herself. "I'm sorry I never got your name. I'm Beth. You are?"