This Is A Ghost Story
by: Ralph E. Ahseln 10/2015
I'm telling you that up front. In fact, it's not so much a single story but, several stories about several ghosts. Oh, they won't be the clanking chains, creaking doors, blood curdling screams and moans kinds of a ghost stories, just your average plain every day dead people doing Ghost things, ...
First, you should know I'm a sailor. Not a very good one, but I do enjoy being around boats, especially sailboats, and I like the people who like those things. I like hanging around marinas too . That's why I am sitting in the office of the Manger's Marina, yarnin' with the old Wharfinger.
He's been a "fixture" on the docks for years. The best part? Well, he can spin a tale about sailing better than anyone.. I know.
There's nothing better than spending a few hours listening to him. He sits there in that broken down rocking chair, drinking what must be the worst coffee ever brewed, his office cat, Stumpy, always sound asleep under the chair. It's a good thing that the cat lost his tail years ago or it would have been under one of the rockers by now.
I'd had it !. Working on the electrical system of my boat was too damned hard.
I'd shocked myself a couple of times already, and the last one knocked me on my butt, HARD.
I must have passed out for a second because when I came to, I was seeing "stars".
"That's IT ! " I yelled to no one in particular. "I Quit !.
I waited until the last of the "Stars" had blinked out, then, sort of crawled off the boat, down the docks, to spend another evening BS'ing with the Old Wharfiger.
A few hours later, after the old man had spun a few amusing stories, I was about to leave, when we both noticed a figure slowly walking toward the office. He was wearing old fashioned oilskins and had an unlit pipe in his teeth. Stumpy woke, arched his back and hissed.
"Shut up you old fool" grumbled the Wharfinger. "It's just Arno making his evening rounds".
The person he called Arno slowly shuffled toward us. The Wharfinger cracked the door open and quietly said, "Good evening Arno. Ya come to check on your boat again? "
The man pulled his "SouWester" back, revealing a gray, weather beaten face. He turned toward the Wharfinger, nodded affirmatively, and kept walking. He turned into one of the slips, and was lost from my view by the mass of spars and rigging.
Now, I've never seen "Arno" before, so I had to ask , " Who is he anyway? "
The old man chuckled and began another story.
"Arno is an old Swede who used to have a boat moored here a long time ago",
The Wharfinger continued, " When the marina was first built it was a place for the local fishermen to tie up. Arno, was one of those fisherman. I think he was one of the first here . His "Butterfly" gillnetter, a beautiful little work boat he named Spöke, was moored here for several years. " The old man wheezed .
As a sailing history buff, I knew what a Butterfly fishing boat was, but I hadn't heard of any of them lately on the river, so I begged the old man to continue.
For the next hour I was on the edge of my chair listening to the stories about fishing using sailboats before engines were common. Stories about the hardships those men had to live with and the dangers they faced just to make a living catching salmon. I knew a lot about history, but not a lot about people. He finished with the history lesson on the "Butterfly" fleet and then began .
Arno was already an old man when he'd first came from Sweden. He'd left his homeland after his entire family died in a tragic house fire. The New World held a promise of work and forgetfulness for him. A river full of salmon was going to be his salvation. He and his little sailing gillnetter "Spöke", would be on the river almost every day. There were fish to be caught and he was good at it. He had one "Devil", is was the fear of fire.
He seldom used a lamp or candle in his floating home up the slough, nor on his boat. He didn't smoke. Nearly all fishermen did at that time. At the local tavern, he'd get his one beer, then go outside to drink it. He was getting away from the gas lamps burning in the Tavern. He'd shake if he saw any kind of fire.
He lived alone.
The rest of the Butterfly Fleet liked Arno. They loved his humor and his willingness to help anyone. He spent hours sitting on a bench outside the Silversides Tavern, telling stories about the old country, his successes and sometimes, his outlandish failures. All the fisherman and most of the citizens of the town thought of him as one of the happiest man they'd ever known.
They understood his fear of fire and never asked about the family he'd lost.
He was the town favorite, and he loved his boat , Spöke
That Butterfly boat was like a child to him. He washed it carefully after each fishing trip. The brightwork looked like glass. He'd put layer upon layer of varnish on all the Weather surfaces. His nets were bright blue-green from the hours of soaking in the vats of Blue Vitriol, the sails were the whitest of the fleet. Anyone could spot that boat, even among a fleet of over 50 boats.
It was late one Fall night when it happened.
Arno and a small group of fishermen had just finished a long day of netting salmon. Each boat had tied up to the Buyer's barge, sold their catch and, now, back at Manger's Marina, were cleaning up their boats and nets. Arno had finally washed Spöke down and was about to climb into his tiny dinghy to row up the slough to his home, when the trouble started.
Some said that a "sneaker" wave had run up into the marina, making all the boats pitch and roll. Others said that someone had kicked over one of the oil lanterns used to light the area. Whatever the cause, one thing was sure, a huge flame erupted on one of the wooden boats. Within minutes, several were on fire. Soaked in oils, covered in varnish and each with bundles of dry cotton sails, it wasn't long before the whole slip was engulfed in flames.
Men shouted and buckets of water were dashed on the growing fires. Nothing seem to help and more boats began to smolder, then break into flame. Soon the whole town was at the dock with everyone trying help extinguish the inferno. A few brave citizens ran along the slip, cutting mooring lines and pushing boats away from the dock in hopes that those boats wouldn't be caught in the fire surrounding them.
In the Silversides Tavern , later that night, debates and heated arguments broke out. Someone had to be blamed and Heroes had to be identified. Such is the way of small towns.
Fingers were pointed and backs were slapped, Toward the end of the evening, they congratulated themselves. They had saved a lot of the boats and most of the marina.
During a lull in the boisterous discussions, one of the fishermen shouted,
"Where's Arno ? "
The tavern went quiet. Someone at the end of the bar said " I saw him when the fire started". One of the more sober fishermen shouted , " I think he was down by his boat". Then a small man at the back of the room stood and quietly said,
"I seen him, I seen him ! The last time I see'd him, he'd cuttin' his boat away from the dock and was sculling it out.. the marina. His boat t'was on fire by then. A full blaze from bow to mast. He's a moving his boat away from about a half dozen t'other boats that weren't yet on fire. He saved Ole's , Old Bill's and the Wilson brother's boats and a couple more down on that end of the slip. He'as on fire, yet he were gettin' his boat away from t'others ! "...
The crowd at the Silversides Tavern erupted in "Hoorahs ", "Good Old Arno ! " and shouts of. "Anybody know Where's Arno now ? "
The question rippled through the crowd.
That quiet little man in back answered.
"I watched as him and his boat got out of the marina and into the main channel current. They was really burning fierce like. Arno was tossing buckets of water on the sails, but the boat was down at the head and it looked like he was losing the battle. Last I seen of him and the boat, they was movin' fast away and the boat was half sunk. I never saw much after. That big old schooner was blockin' my lookin'...".
The crowd in the Silverside Tavern went quiet.
Fishermen who've been on the water for years, knew what it means when one of those little wide boats start taking on water. They knew that unless there'd been some kind of miracle, The boat, and probably Arno, were both down, and in water nearly 60 feet deep.
The Silverside Tavern closed early that night. There wasn't a lot of talking, and some folks had tears in their eyes.
It was a week later, when one of the Butterfly gillnetters snagged and pulled up a partially burned board. It was a piece of a boat's transom. Barely readable, in faded red paint, the word....."SPöKE" ...could still be seen.....!
They never found Arno, but the townspeople had a funeral for him anyway.
The fishermen at the Silversides Tavern, hung the charred piece of the transom over the bar and every day, someone would toast Arno with a single glass of beer.
There never was a fire at the docks again after that, and anytime one of the fishermen got in trouble out on the water, they'd swear ...
"I seen Arno and it were him that helped me out the awful jam I's in" .....
The old Wharfinger had finished the story, picked up his tin cup and drained what was left of the coffee. How long the muddy liquid had been in there, no one could have guessed. He looked at me and smiled.
"How'd ja like that story mate ? " he wheezed a cough and laughed.
I was about to thank him when the shape of that oil skin covered individual shuffled past the office door again.
The Wharfinger opened the door a crack and shouted to the figure,
"Everything ok , Arno ?. Thanks for keeping an eye on things. I'll be lookin' for you tomorra".
He shut the door and looked at me. A big grin on his face. He "Ahem-d" and said, "Time for me to hit my berth young fella. Yer welcome to come in for more stories anytime".
As I left the office, I paused a moment and looked up the ramp just in time to see the odd character disappear into the night's gloom.
I headed for my boat. As I stepped into the cabin, something kept running around my brain. Something in the old Wharfinger's story that had unsettled me.
I fired up the battery powered laptop and did a Google of the history of Manger's marina.
It... Leaped from the screen.
"Manger's Marina was built in 1898 and rebuilt after a major fire in 1900. During the fire several sailing gillnetter boats were destroyed. It was also confirmed that , Mr. Arno Torgeson , aged 72, had perished as a result of the fire..."
The old Wharfinger had called the man Arno ! He said that he was one of the original moorage members. The boat was one of the first Butterfly boats moored here.
Those odd little sailing boats worked the river at the turn of the 20th century. In 1900, there were over 2000 of them on the water, fishing for salmon
How Could the man walking by the office be ..Arno Torgeson ? He would have to be.. 187 years old !
I suddenly knew the truth.
The old Wharfinger had introduced me to a spirit, a shadow of the past, ..
A specter, doomed to walk the marina's docks, in an never ending search for fire.
That night, I wept.....for Arno,
Episode II. Follows