The Pelican House

“Hey! Elliot?” I turned around and searched the pier for the voice. A man, slightly over weight with thinning wisps of white hair curling up from under a green cap, stood at the end of the dock and waved his hand high over his head.

“Hi,” I said. “Are you Ben?” The man grinned revealing coffee stained teeth.

“That’s me! Welcome to Maine m’boy! Are you ready to get fishing?” Ben didn’t wait for an answer. He used his wooden cane to limp to the side of a small fishing boat; it was barely bigger than your standard dinghy. “Why don’t you untie the boat while I start the engine?” Ben said. “Then jump in quick or I’ll have to fish you out of the water.” His quiet chuckle was soon drowned out by the rough buzz of the motor as it rumbled to life. The tendrils of smoke that seeped out from the seams of the machine did not encourage me.

Ben steered us expertly out of the tangle of vessels in the harbor and traveled parallel to the shore for a while. He chattered on good-naturedly about Maine and asked me innumerous question about my family, my girlfriend, and my plans for the future.

“When your grandmother told me that you were coming up here I offered to take you out right away,” He said amiably. “She’s always really nice when I go in to get my meds so I figured the least I could do is take her grandson out to see the sights in Maine. Have you ever been fishing, lad?”

“Not really.” I had been fishing, but only the kind where you sit on a small rowboat in the middle of a lake for hours, board out of your mind, while your annoying as hell cousin pulls out hundreds of tiny meatless fish and holds them in your face to drip all over your pants. I was hoping ocean fishing was different.

As the morning started to deepen the sun shined through the clearing fog hovering above the water. I pulled out my camera and snapped a couple of pictures before the light faded. My photo teacher would like them. He is always saying I have to be more artistic with my work. Whatever that means. Through the lens I scanned the main land until I came to a peninsula jetting off into the Atlantic. The very tip was almost an island, only connected to land by a few steppingstones, and it looked like it held a house. I zoomed in.

It was in the style of a mini Victorian mansion, though I could tell it was a replica. The main platform was barely bigger then the foundation its self. In fact there wasn’t really any foundation at all and the house was beginning to slip into the feathers of water beneath. You could tell it had been abandoned for many years as the white paint was peeling off of the sides and the roof was covered with the droppings of the pelicans that were cawing atop the red brick chimney.

Then, from the upstairs window, I saw a quick flash of a face. For a second a little girl as pale as a ghost peered out from beneath the faded white curtains and her ocean-like eyes watched us as we floated away. I blinked but she had disappeared once again into the windswept house.

“Who was that?” I asked. Ben glanced at the house warily.

“What did you see lad?” He asked.

“There was a girl in the window,” I replied softly and Ben made a clicking sound.

“Ye saw Lassie’s ghost,” he said. “She hangs around that old pelican infested house where she used to live with her parents. ‘Twas a shame when they died.” I looked for a minute to see if he was kidding. Everyone knows ghosts aren’t even scientifically possible. Ben just looked at the house seriously and shook his head. “Poor little girl,” He said. “No one found her body. I liked that little one. It would have been her birthday last Sunday too.”

“But it was a real girl,” I insisted.

“Lad, no one’s lived in that house for 20 years,” Ben said gently patting me on the shoulder. “Come on and help me steer. My arms are getting tired.”

I really should have forgotten it then. It was probably just some kids daring each other to venture into the ‘haunted house’ or an optical illusion or something. Still, I couldn’t quite put that girl’s face out of my head. That night the Pelican House was scattered through my confused sleep and I woke early that morning with a feeling of urgency in my gut.

“Why are you up this early, boy?” Grandmother Ursula asked as I made my way down the creaky stairs. I was trying to be quiet so I could sneak outside but her voice made me jump. I didn’t think old people were supposed to wake up this early.

“Oh, Hi Gram,” I said trying to act as natural as possible after my theatrics. “I was just thinking of going for a swim before-“

“I don’t like the idea of you out in those waters at night,” My grandmother said crisply. She leaned back on the counter to relieve pressure from her arthritic hips and continued. “If you drown out there, no one’s going to be able to find your body ‘till morning. Then your mother’s going to hate me for letting you get all blue and full of water.” Nice, I thought sardonically. That’s all that she cares about? My grandmother was never very emotional.

“I won’t drown gram,” I promised. “I’m not going far either.” Grandma Ursula pursed her lips in argument so I changed tactics. “Ok, ok! If it makes you feel better I won’t swim.” I put my towel down on the chair for emphasis. “I just want to get some fresh air.” She narrowed her eyes at me for a minute and tapped her fingers on the counter.

“Fine,” She said. “Just remember you have to meet Ben at 8.”

“I remember Gram,” I said and kissed her on the cheek as I slid through the back door. As soon as I was out of sight I began to run. The cobblestone of the streets caught my feet more then a few times but I maintained my footing as I raced towards the pier.

I began to doubt myself when I came to the stepping-stones that lead to the Pelican House. They were much smaller, sharper, and farther between then I remembered from the boat. I considered turning back then but my curiosity got the better of me.

I took the steps slowly and used both hands and feet to guide my ascent. The rocks were slick with algae and barnacles so that even my traction coated sneakers had a hard time holding on. I slipped a few times and dunked a foot or pant leg in the surf. Finally, I made it to the last rock. The distance between it and the island was at least 5 feet and I stood contemplating how to get across for a while. Finally, I took a chance and stretched my leg out as far as it could go. My toes brushed the edge, barely, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Just as I readied to shift my weight and fling myself to the other side I heard a voice.

“Hello?” It said softly as if a whisper on the wind. I looked at the small body that had suddenly appeared in front of me and in my surprise lost my footing.

Down I went, crashing, back first, into the ice-cold water. Luckily, it wasn’t more then waist deep but it was still freezing and I could feel the little stones and shells at the bottom cutting into my skin. I bit back blasphemous language, as Grandma called it, and winced.

“Are you ok?” I looked up at the girl again and found myself surprised that she was still there. Part of me wondered if she was a ghost. Her skin and hair were almost as pale as the worn ivory keys of a piano.

“I’m ok,” I said and she smiled.

“Oh good! I was worried for a minute.” Her voice sounded like the chirping of chicks.

I dragged my stubborn body out of the water and onto solid land. Immediately the morning air caught my wet clothes and covered me in cold. I shivered.

“Follow me,” the girl said and without further warning raced back towards the house. Her faded pink dress billowed behind her. I figured what the heck. Now that I came all this way it couldn’t hurt to spend a few minutes drying off. I made my way through the sleeping garden to the front door and the first stirring pelican laughed at me from the rooftop.

“Leave him alone!” The girl called from the door and smiled at me. “Don’t let them bother you. They’re really are nice once you get to know them. Come on,” She pulled me inside by the hand and sat me down in a chair by the kitchen table. I had to concede that her touch was very real. I almost laughed to myself. Of course there is no such thing as ghosts!

“You’re hurt,” She said. I looked down at my hand and saw little claws of blood running from the scratches I acquired in my fall. “Hold on,” She said. “I’ll get the Band-Aids.”

“Who are you?” I asked. As she rummaged around in a drawer above the sink.

“My name is Gwenevere,” She said. “Everyone just calls me Gwen though. What’s your name?”

“Elliot,” I replied. Gwen hopped down from the stool she was standing on holding a box of Band-Aids and Neosporin. “How old are you?” I asked.

“11,” Gwen’s eyes sparkled proudly. “It was my birthday just last week.” She stood in front of me and took my hand in both of her small ones. “Your skin is so dark,” she said and her brows furrowed in thought. After a minute she smiled. “It looks like chocolate.”

“Where are you’re parents?” I regretted the question as soon as it was out of my mouth. Gwen’s eyes fell and my hand gave a little twinge of protest, as she pressed down a bit hard on my injuries. “Never mind,” I said quickly. “I should go but-“

“Would you play with me?” Gwen interrupted. I really wanted to leave but the blue pools staring back at me made it almost impossible.

“Ok, just for a little bit,” I conceded. Gwen grinned and tapped me on the knee.

“You’re it!” She was up the stairs before I could even react.

Time passed quickly in that house. Gwen’s constant giggle was enough to lull you into a trance and before I knew it half of the sun was above the horizon. I couldn’t even count how many rounds of tag we played. If I didn’t hurry up I would be late for fishing.

“Gwen!” I called. “I have to go! I’ll come back tomorrow!”

“Just find me one last time,” Came the dim reply from upstairs. I trudged up the steps feeling slightly light headed from all of the running. When I found her Gwen was sitting in the window ledge of the child’s play room looking out at the ocean.

“I’ve got to go,” I said.

“I know,” She replied. “So do I.” She looked at me and smiled. “Thanks for playing with me. It was fun.”

“Wait,” I said feeling a twinge of worry. “Where do you have to go?”

“Away,” she replied. “I’m going to see Mommy and Daddy.” Before I could stop her she pushed herself from the window and a strangled gasp escaped my throat. I ran to the ledge and looked out expecting to see her frail white body lying crumpled and bloody on the rocks below. There was nothing.

I scoured the whole island but there was no trace that Gwenevere had even been there. All of the children’s toys and books had sheets of dust as thick as my thumb covering them and the house that had looked so clean was suddenly in disarray. The garden that I walked through this morning too was gone. In fact, it looked as if it had never been. There was no body on the island or in the water surrounding. What happened? I refused to believe that she hadn’t been here but the contradicting evidence was overwhelming. What had I done all morning? It was well passed 8 when I finally conceded to my confused mind and made my way back across the precarious stones.

Ben picked me up in his boat as I stumbled along the coast. I was too shaken to provide any reasoning as to why I was so late. As the old boat crashed through the waves off the coast of Maine, I looked up once more to the old house on the rocky peninsula. The white drapes breathed slowly with the wind and the pelicans sounded my departure with their sweet croaking chorus.

“What happened to your hand?” Ben asked. I looked down and to my surprise found a Band-Aid still clung to my skin. The wet adhesive left pox marks on my thumb and underneath I could see remnants of the injuries I sustained in my ascension to the Pelican House.