Stories Told At SeaMay 23, 2011
background, I am a warfare officer in the Australian Navy and I drive warships. The easiest way to describe my job is the person who pilots the ship for 4 hour shifts, and when the Captain walks onto the bridge, he often takes control of the ship off me, if he requests it. As such, I often have a team of about 3-4 on the bridge at any one time consisting of a helmsman (who physically drives and controls the engines on my behalf), a more senior ‘quarter master’ (QM…whose job is to make sure the admin of the bridge happens while i am busy navigating/talking to the operations room) and another junior warfare officer under training to learn my job, if we have a few of them onboard. ‘Watches’ are 4 hours long, with the usual rotation being 4 hours on, 8 hours off. As such, one of the +most bemoaned watch rosters is being the person who gets the afternoon (12-4pm)-graveyard shift (Midnight-4am), also known in Navy slang as the ‘Arvo and Guts Watch’. This watch is hated as it gives you the most broken sleep, as everyone onboard normally has to be up and about at 6:45am to start the day. I digress.
What this means, is that if you are unlucky enough to get the midnight-4am watch, you need to stay awake. Being up on the bridge of a warship, you need to have everything dark so as to not ruin your night vision out the windows and into the sea beyond. 80% of the ship is asleep, and I personally enjoy the quiet ‘downtime’. Weird conversations happen, and more often than not, people start talking about weird things that have happened to them. I will never forget the one night I was on a patrol boat in the middle of the Arafura Sea in northern Australia, and the story two of the sailors told me.
A patrol boat is smaller then normal warships, so I only had a helmsman on watch with me. We were hundreds of miles in the middle of the ocean, and were just having a coffee and a laugh while we sat in the dimly red-lit dark of the bridge, the muffled thrum of the ship’s engines, the sound of our bow cutting through the dark water and the muted static of our VHF radio scanning empty channels being the only sounds. Every now and then the wind would pick up and you’d hear the howl before it deposited a thin spray of salt water into our bridge windows. Hopefully I have set the scene and made you feel what it is like to be in the middle of nowhere late at night.
One of the senior engineers had wandered up to the bridge for a coffee and he was sitting on the stairs that led up to the upper deck from the bridge, and I had just finished telling my story about our old house to the sailor on the helm, who was a bit freaked out! The helmsman then told me his story….and needless to say, it in turn freaked me out. And I generally like a good ‘unexplained story’. His story really re-enforced my wariness of ouija boards/seances, as this was the prime factor behind the weirdness of the afore-mentioned house I lived in as a toddler. His story is as follows….
THE HOSPITAL SEANCE
To begin with, the sailor told me how before joining the Navy, he used to work as a wardsman at the Royal Brisbane Hospital in early 2001. He said it was a great place to work, with other young wardsmen for company, and as he put it ‘heaps of hot young nurses.’ A few of the girls were into seances and a few of them were living on the hospital grounds in accommodation while they did their internships. One of the girls suggested that one night they go into an abandoned ward and conduct a seance, because as anyone who works in a long-established hospital will tell you, they are normally hotbeds of weird activity. (My mother is a 30 year midwife and she has some things she said she can’t explain…like mothers reporting a ‘smiling, kindly old matron with a weird hat who came and checked on me in the middle of the night and patted my baby to sleep’…despite there only being 2 young nurses on that shift all night, but I again digress). Thinking it sounded like fun, he said yes, and a few nights later after work, a few of them (plus a few nurses he hadn’t met before) all went up to the disused ward and set up the ouija board.
He said they started the seance and the glass started to move as they had ‘apparently’ contacted a spirit. He scoffed and thought it was a joke, as the glass was moving randomly with everyone putting a finger on it. Of course he thought that the others were moving the glass. He said someone was given a pen and a paper and told to scribe anything that happened. Little did he know that their innocent night was about to get really weird…
Apparently someone asked this spirit, ‘What is your name?’ The glass moved and spelled out ‘N-I-G-E-L.’ They all laughed and someone else asked, ‘Are you Good or Evil?’ (I have goosebumps as I type this) and the glass moved over to ‘EVIL.’ Still scoffing, the sailor said some other questions were asked, but they got back a lot of jibberish. Suddenly, about 2 mins later he said the glass started going absolutely nuts, and some people started goetting uneasy. Despite this, it seemed to be following a pattern so someone told the guy scribing to write down what the glass was moving to. He got something like the following, and slowly it started making words. Apparently it read, ‘I-L-L-B-A-B-Y-C-A-S-S-I-K-I-L-L-B-A-B-Y-C-A…..’ After a few more repetitions the guy scribing went, ‘Kill baby Cassi…..oh, Cassi kill baby? What the hell does that mean??’ (I joke you not here when I tell you this, the sailor telling me the story said this screwed/disturbed him for quite a while) One of the girls in the circle turned pale, held her hand to her mouth and ran from the room sobbing hysterically, like a wailing cry of utter terror. He said one of the guys went ‘Haha what’s up with her?’.
One of the other nurses went outside to console her, and the story came back as such. The girl who ran outside confessed to the other girl that she had had a secret abortion 3 weeks prior after finding out she was pregnant. She told NO ONE about the abortion, not her parents, not even her own boyfriend. Her name? You guessed it, was Cassie. That pretty much wrapped up the night, and horrified, the rest of them finished the seance and swore never to do it again.
After he finished telling me this, I was pretty freaked out, but the other older sailor (he was in his 40s) just sat there and said nothing, and drank his coffee. Trying to lighten the mood, I said ‘that was a good story, but what about you Chief (his rank), surely you have a good one you have heard?’ I noticed he was looking really uncomfortable so being a great people manager/officer (lol), I decided to go for the jugular and shame him into telling it. ‘C’mon chief, tell us!’, I jibed. I probably should have left it there, but he decided to tell us. I don’t know if it was true or not, but in hindsight, judging how reluctant he was to tell the two of us, and how freaked out he looked when he told us, it’s inclined to make me think.
To set it up, this guy was/is (as I mentioned) in his 40s. He’s been in the Navy for over 20 years working in the engine room as the Chief Engineering sailor, so he’s not a weak-willed guy prone to getting scared. From his posture, and the look on his face, I could tell he was really reluctant to tell his story. I’ve heard sailors tell stroies before (and I’ve heard some good ones) and you can tell when someone is pulling your leg. This guy was flat out scared. I almost felt bad that I tried to conjole the story out of him.
Anyway, his story started when he was 6. He said he was in Grade 2 of what some of you American readers would know as Elementary School. They had to make paper-maiche dolls for Mother’s Day, and he said he ended up making a clown marionette/puppet that was suspended on strings. He said his mother loved it immediately, and loved the fact that it was probably the first really creative thing he had made at school and prior that at kindergarden. She insisted he hang this doll off the curtain rail above his bed, as she loved seeing it hung up ion his room for ‘extra colour’.
Now being 6 years old, he said the novelty of having a clown puppet hanging over his head in bed at night started getting out of hand. After a year or so, he said he actually began to really resent the clown being there. He said he especially hated waking up in the middle of the night and seeing it leering down at him….after a while he started to realise that he hated the clown, and his imagination probably made it worse, as he felt like he was being ‘watched’ of a night time, or whenever he was in his room. He told his mother that he didn’t want it hung up above his bed anymore, but he said he could tell she really hurt by the diea of taking it down, as she really loved it being there. (I would have thought she should have hung it above HER bed, but I held my tongue!) One day, after freaking out in his sleep once too often, he took it down and threw it in the rubbish in the kitchen. He said he made sure he put some other rubbish on top of it so that his Mum wouldn’t find it. he went to bed early that night, and said he felt happy knowing it wasn’t above his head anymore on the curtain rod.
Next day he woke up to find the clown puppet back above his head. He said he cursed under his breath and thought that his Mum must have found it, gotten upset, and put it back in his room late that night/early that morning when he was sleeping. He decided not to say/ask anything about it of his mother, as he thought he’d get in trouble for trying to throw it out to begin with. A few weeks later he took it to the wheelie bin outside the house and threw it under some bottles and cans. He then placed a large bag of rubbish from the kitchen on top of it and wheeled the bin out for collection by the garbage men the next day. He woke up the next morning to find the bloody clown BACK above his head and hanging from the curtain rod.
As you can imagine he said he was upset by this point (and in real life, myself and the helmsman both realised that he was visibly shaken from telling us this) and he confronted his mother about it. He said to her, ‘Mum, why did you take that clown of the bin and put it back in my room?’ ‘James, what are you talking about? id you try and get rid of the doll? Why would you do that, you know how much that means to me, it was one of the first things you made!’ ‘Mum, I really don’t want it anymore, it scares me.’ ‘James that’s nonsense. It’s paper-maiche!’ He was upset, and assumed that his Mum was ‘onto him’ and had retrieved the doll from the rubbish.
He left it at that, but decided he would get rid of it once and for all a week later or so. One day when his Mum was out and his Dad was in the garage fixing the car, he took the puppet up the backyard and put it in the incinerator. (Australian readers will probably remember most people seemed to have one of these cicular brick areas in their backyards when they were younger for gardening/mulch etc) He said he lit the match and covered the doll in paper and dried grass. Afte ra few minutes, it was completely charred and had burned to ashes. Giddy with delight, he confessed to his mother what he had done later that day when she got home, confident in the fact that she now couldn’t do anything about it after the fact. He got grounded (and smacked!) for playing with fire, but he said his mother got over her dissappointment and moved on, with nothing more being said about it. Or so he thought.
That night he said he dreamed that he woke up, his bedroom door opened slowly, and that the clown, now on fire and in flames walked into his room and said to him, ‘You thought you could get rid of me didn’t you? Well one day you’re going to pay for what you did!’ He said he woke up screaming which brought his paretns running. He was crying but they assured him it was a bad dream. He quickly put it behind him, although he said his parents were quite concerned for a few days.
Years later, when he was 16 he had another dream. He dreamed (and now people, I can FEEL the goosebumps running up my legs!) the same clown doll walked into his room on fire and said ‘You thought I forgot didn’t you James? Well I haven’t forgotten, and trust me, one day you will pay.’ He woke up screaming again, and he told his mother about the dream. His grandmother, (who by his account was one of those hippie types who liked ‘alternate lifestyles’ etc) suggested that he see a clairvoyant/mystic/gypsy woman she knew for a card/palm reading. He thought it couldn’t hurt, and he went along and did it, despite his scepticism of such ‘rubbish’. He said the woman blanched a little when she read his cards and said ‘something or someone very bad wants to hurt you…have you offended anyone lately or in your life?’ He broke down and told her the story of the clown, and how it appeared in his dreams when he was younger and again when he was 16. She said to him ‘James, this is very bad. If you ever see that clown again, something terrible might happen and you need to be prepared.’ At this point we were quiet on the bridge. I was letting it all sink in, and I couldn’t help but notice that this sailor was shaking. I realised I shouldn’t have puhed him to tell the story, and that is was evidently something he was seriously scared of, and had been his entire life.
The helmsman, after a minute of silence blurted out what I had been thinking. ‘So Chief, have you seen it since?’. The Chief looked at us both and said ‘I have never seen it since, and I live in fear of the day that I end up dreaming I see it again.’
And that ladies and gentlemen, ended our few hours of telling stories. I went and pretended I was checking the radar and chart while the helmsman looked ahead and pretended to check the autopilot. The Chief finshed his coffee, came and looked over my shoulder at my nav-plan on the chart to see where we were, and bid us goodnight.
After the bridge door shut the helmsman and I looked at each other and uttered a rather prolonged, unified expletive. Whether it was true or not, it is the freakiest story I have ever heard. If he was pulling our leg, it was an Oscar award winning performance. The fact that he was so visibly shaken while telling it (his voice breaking at parts) led me to believe it probably wasn’t….if anything, it was real to him.
Another guy I was on watch with said he had a really freaky dream one night (wasn’t a true story, but his dream was freaky as hell) at sea. He said he dreamed he woke up in his bunk on the ship and no one was around. He dreamed he got dressed to go on watch, and all he could hear was the ship creaking and the dull sounds of waves outside the hull. He said he walked up to the bridge and found the ship on autopilot, with no one up there. Thinking it was weird, and hearing the creaking, he kept looking around. He said the worst part of the dream was that he opened a cargo hold in the lower part of the ship and found the whole ship’s company, some 56 people swinging by their necks from ropes hung from the roof of the hold, the creaking being the ropes swinging with the rock of the ship.
Weird. We laughed about it, but he said the dream freaked him out. Funny what the human mind can come up with while asleep!