The Shadow

by Katie Hamstead

This Halloween, Curiosity Quills authors are spreading the spookiness by sharing their own personal paranormal experiences. Get haunted with these bone-chilling blogs, or post your own! #myghoststory.

So, I don’t really have any spooky stories, but my Granddad served in the British Navy right after WWII and he had some doozies. So I’ve taken one of his and made it into a short story for you. When you’re done here, use the links to see what other CQ authors have. Enjoy!

“This ship sunk five U-boats!” Petty Officer Thomas said as the men pushed and shoved down the narrow passageway. “Five! She’s a real beaut!”

“I don’t care as long as I don’t have to sleep above you,” the large, robust Seaman Smith said. “I’ve smelled ya during training.”

The small group of men laughed.

“Ah, you can eat my sh—”

“Watch it, Thomas,” Petty officer Welsh snapped, shoving him through the door. “We’ve got Bennett with us and he’s a good Christian boy.”

The youngest of the group shrugged and lifted his crucifix he kept hung with his tags.

They shuffled into the tight room where they pushed and shoved their packs into the small closets. Then, they wrestled over which hammock belonged to who.

“Enough!”

They all shot to attention as the Captain stepped through the door. He straightened his whites, and looked them over in their navy blues. “You are men representing King and country and you behave like… colonials.”

“Sorry, Cap’n,” they responded in unison.

“Hurry up and get up on deck.”

He stepped out, and they hurried to finish.

“Uh sh—” Smith glanced at Bennett. “I mean bugger it all. How did I end up above Thomas?”

“There’s one left above me.” Bennett motioned to the unclaimed Hammock.

“You are a good Christian, Bennett.”

The five men hurried onto the deck where they rushed to prepare the ship for launch.

“So what exactly are we doing out at sea?” Welsh asked.

“Not much. Checking the coast is secure then docking at Liverpool,” Bennett answered.

“Where we can find some dames.” Smith laughed merrily. “When I’m off duty I’ll spend every moment at the pub.”

“We know,” the other four said in unison.

“You’re going to cause trouble,” Bennett muttered.

“Coming from the married boy,” Smith said waving his ring-free hands in Bennett’s face.

“My wife is a good woman.”

A bell rang, and all the men rushed to get into formation.

The formalities for the launch were performed, and as the men saluted the Union Jack, the ship set off out of the mouth of the Thames. In a great triumphant spirit, the sailors sang, “God save our Gracious King,” as the ship reached the English Channel.

They were dismissed, and the five men hurried to go about their business. They finished their tasks, and took their shift to eat. As they sat in the crammed mess room, a group of officers sat beside them.

“We’ve got some green boys here,” one of the Lieutenants said.

“You were green once,” Welsh muttered.

The sneers on the three men’s faces fell. “You were green once, sir.”

“Yes sir.”

The Lieutenant glared at him. “Which pit of despair have you boys been assigned to?”

“Our what?”

“Your quarters.”

“One-oh-six,” Thomas piped up.

The men all shushed him.

But the Lieutenant leaned back, turning white. “If that’s the case then we don’t need to teach you a lesson about manners.”

They moved to stand, but Thomas said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Smith grabbed him around the shoulders and pinned him against the table. “Shut your trap ya git!”

The Lieutenant leaned in. “The petty officer has a good question. Let him go.”

Smith obeyed.

The Lieutenant nodded. “Very well. As you know this is a ship which performed great and heroic deeds during the war, but it wasn’t without losses.” He motioned to the kitchen. “Ask Cook. He was here the night this girl almost sunk from a U-boat attack. That was the night all the men that lived in your quarters died.”

“Aw he’s just tryin’ to scare us,” Welsh said. “Let’s go so we can get some sleep.”

The five men shoved the last of their food in their mouths and hurried to their quarters. They changed out of their uniforms in silence, until Russell, the one who rarely spoke, said, “Do you think those men really died?”

Smith scoffed. “No. They’re being smart-arses that’s all. That’s what officers do to enlisted men. Don’t worry about it.”

They all climbed into their hammocks and turned the light out. The darkness and slight rocking of the ship quickly lulled them to sleep.

Thomas woke them all with his screaming. Welsh fell on the floor as he struggled to climb out of his hammock and Smith cussed up a storm. “Shut up you blinking idiot!”

“There’s… I…”

Welsh turned the light on. “What?”

“There was…”

The door flew open and the Captain glared at them. “Why is he screaming like a school girl?”

They all looked to Thomas.

He pointed at the empty hammock above him. “There was someone in it!”

The Captain rolled his eyes. “Have you been talking to some of the officers?”

Two nodded, two shook their heads while Thomas turned white. “No! There really was someone there! I thought it was Smith being a dick, so I went to punch him, but I hit nothing. NOTHING. Just a loose hammock.”

The Captain pointed at him. “Enough. I’m tired of these pranks. If I hear another sound from this room I’ll have you scrubbing the decks.”

“Do they even do that anymore?” Smith mumbled.

The Captain turned on him. “You will if I say so.”

“Yes Cap’n,” they all said with a salute.

He spun and shut the door with a bang.

They all turned to Thomas.

“Thomas,” Smith said with a growl. “You keep your pie hole shut. IF you think you can scare us with a little ghost story you’re wrong.”

“Fellas, I’m not lying!” Thomas rushed to the door. “I can’t stay in here.”

Welsh grabbed him. “Do you want to get us all stuck on swabbing the deck? Get back to bed.”

He shook his head, all color draining from his face. “No.”

Russell groaned and climbed into Thomas’ hammock. “Go to sleep in mine.”

Thomas stood quivering. “I don’t want to stay in here.”

“You gutless wonder!” Smith grabbed him and shoved him toward Russell’s hammock. “Go to bed!”

Thomas looked to Bennett. “Bless this place.”

“I’m not a priest,” he responded, stroking his crucifix. “I’ll say a prayer.”

“Yes, yes, say a prayer.” He rushed over and grasped his pocket bible. “Can I sleep with this?”

“Go ahead.”

Thomas clasped it to his chest and climbed up into the hammock.

Welsh flicked out the light.

“Smith!” Crash. “Smith!”

“What?” Smith shot up in his hammock as Welsh flicked the light on.

Russell stood in the middle of the room, his hand outstretched. “He was standing right beside you! Looking at you!”

“Who?”

Russell pulled his hand back, turning white. He swore and spun to Thomas. “We can’t stay in here.”

“Whoa, stop.” Welsh raised his hand. “Are you saying you saw something?”

“Yes. It was just a shadow, but it was a man.”

They all fell silent.

“Are you sure you weren’t just dreaming?” Welsh asked.

Russell spun to him. “I’m sleeping in the passageway.”

“I’ll join you.” Thomas jumped off the hammock and the pair rushed out of the room.

Bennett, Smith and Welsh stared at each other.

“I say we stay awake,” Smith suggested. “Turn out the light, lay all quiet like, and see what happens. If nothing happens after about thirty minutes, we drag their sorry arses back in here.”

Welsh nodded. “I think they were dreaming. That lieutenant probably planted the idea in Thomas’ mind, then when he dreamt it, he passed the thought on to Russell.”

“I agree.” Smith looked to Bennett. “What do you think?”

Bennett glanced between them. “I think there are things in this world we do not understand. I believe in the afterlife, and so naturally, spirits. But I don’t want to believe they are here with us, but there’s only one way to know for sure. We stay awake. If we all see them, then we know without a shadow of a doubt.”

Welsh took a deep breath. “Then it’s agreed. We stay awake. I’ll turn off the light, and we wait.”

Bennett and Smith nodded, shuffling back down, before Welsh turned off the light.

They each lay still, and very quiet. Ten minutes, fifteen passed.

“Are you still awake?” Smith whispered.

“Yes,” they both replied.

Another five minutes passed. Their eyes had adjusted to the darkness and they could each see the outlines of the white canvass hammocks.

Then, the spare hammock shifted and filled. Smith drew a sharp breath, but none of them moved. Then, as Welsh stared at the empty hammock above him, a body filled it up. He froze, unable to move or even make a sound.

Then the shadow appeared. A tall, broad shouldered man stood over Smith.

Smith screamed.

The three of them all found their voices, and in a flash, pushed and shoved out into the passageway, screaming, swearing. They slammed the hatch behind them.

They tripped over Russell and Thomas and the five of them ended up in a tangled pile.

“We saw them!” Welsh cried.

The Captain appeared, his face red with rage. “What’s going on?”

“Ghosts!” all five of them yelled.

He glared at them. “Get up on deck and start swabbing.”

“Gladly.”

“Right away.”

“Yes sir.”

“Love to.”

“Of course.”

The rushed away, the lack of sleep the last of their concerns. As they collected the cleaning supplies, they simply felt grateful to be away from that room.

In the morning, they sat for breakfast, all with heavy eyes, and wearied bodies. No one else was around, so the cook came and sat with them. “You boys look exhausted.”

They all groaned.

“We’ve haven’t been at sea for twenty-four hours.”

Welsh lifted his head. “We were told you’d know what room one-oh-six means.”

Cook turned pale. “You were assigned one-oh-six?”

They all lifted their heads to gaze at him.

“Yes,” Bennett replied. “What happened?”

Cook rubbed his hands together, shuffling uncomfortably on his chair. “They were buddies of mine. All six of ‘em, but people have only ever seen four at once. I figure the other two passed on, but I bet I know which four stayed.”

The five men stared at him, their weariness gone.

“What happened?” Thomas repeated.

“It was a U-boat attack,” Cook said, shaking his head. “They’d just gone to bed when we were hit. We were damaged, and they were trapped in that room when it flooded.”

A tense silence prevailed over the group.

“They drowned in their beds?” Thomas whispered.

“If they were lucky enough to not notice,” Cook said. “But men heard them banging, trying to get out. It was probably a terrible death.”

“Which ones do you think stayed?” Smith asked.

Cook leaned back, lifting his hand, raising one finger at a time as he said, “Keith, Hamilton, Lawrence and Davis.”

“Why them?” Bennett asked.

Cook touched his index finger. “Keith never wanted to join the navy, his dad made him, he wasn’t even sixteen. Poor kid would hide if we saw any action. Hamilton didn’t want to die and would get drunk every time we ported so he could numb the fear, Lawrence was the protector of them all and always stayed to make sure no one got left behind, and Davis, ooh Davis, he was a piece of work. He dreamed of slitting Nazi throats. He’d hang around just to try and get revenge on the buggers that killed him.”

The five exchanged terrified looks.

“We’re not going back in there,” Thomas said.

They all agreed.

So, when time came for them to retire, they set up in the passageway for the night.

The Captain appeared, and stared down at them, scowling. “Why aren’t you in your beds?”

“This is where we’re sleeping,” Smith answered, pulling a blanket over himself.

“You’re in the way!” The Captain snatched his blanket away. “Get in your beds immediately.”

They all shuffled down, ignoring him.

“This is insubordination. You will be disciplined.”

They all shrugged and closed their eyes.

“This is ridiculous. There’s no ghosts in there and I’ll prove it.” He stepped in, banging the hatch closed behind him and locking it.

They stared at each other, and Bennett hummed a hymn as they dozed off.

Screaming tore them from their sleep. A loud clang made them all jump, a moment before the hatch flew open. The Captain stumbled out, landing in Thomas’ lap. He looked around at the men, before scrambling to his feet and screaming down the passageway.

“I guess he believes us now,” Welsh said.

They all looked into the dark room, then Smith slammed the hatch shut.

The next morning they were assigned new quarters. But their captain wasn’t on duty.

When they went in for lunch, Bennett motioned for them to lean in. “I found the Captain. He’s locked up because he’s ranting about ghosts attacking him and trying to drown him.”

The four men shivered.

When they arrived at Liverpool, the Captain was taken for psychiatric treatment, and the men, well, one of them became my grandfather.

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Katie Hamstead - Author PicAbout Katie Hamstead:

Born and raised in Australia, Katie’s early years of day dreaming in the “bush”, and having her father tell her wild bedtime stories, inspired her passion for writing.

After graduating High School, she became a foreign exchange student where she met a young man who several years later she married. Now she lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, and their dog.

She has a diploma in travel and tourism which helps inspire her writing. She is currently at school studying English and Creative Writing.

Katie loves to out sing her friends and family, play sports and be a good wife and mother. She loves to write, and takes the few spare moments in her day to work on her novels.

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