Twelve-year-old bespectacled Rory has always loved to read about sailors and the ocean. So although his first time aboard a boat is in the company of his mother and her new husband, and the boat in question is a big luxury cruise ship, he is thrilled to be at sea.His pleasure soon evaporates when he meets the mysterious Mr. Morgan. There is something sinister about the old man, so old that he might even have been a passenger on the Titanic. John Lunn’s debut novel is a fast-paced thriller about an unlikely ghost and his legacy of cowardice and evil.
|Edition description:||First ed.|
|Product dimensions:||5.13(w) x 7.63(h) x 0.43(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
John Lunn grew up in Toronto, Ontario. The youngest son of children’s author Janet Lunn, after a silversmithing apprenticeship in his teens, he moved to Boston to pursue a career as a flutemaker. He has been writing since he was very young, and has written novels and screenplays in between making flutes, raising two children, flying airplanes, and working in local politics. He has a small animation studio and films stop-motion animation. John and his wife, Meredith, now live in New Hampshire with their four dogs.
Read an Excerpt
Rory Goes to Sea
Aboard at last! Standing on the deck of a sea bound ship is where I belong, Rory Dugan sighed happily. It didn’t matter that the Sea Lion was an ocean liner, and not a clipper or destroyer. Nor did it matter that he was a twelve-year-old boy wandering around the main lobby, and not a hearty sailor high in the rigging of the mizzenmast. All that mattered was that he was going to sea. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Southampton to New York.
The enormous lobby was busier than a subway station at rush hour, and Rory had already lost his mother in the crowd. This was the fanciest place he’d ever seen. All dark wood walls with brass trim, plush green carpeting, and brown leather furniture. It was open in the middle, like a shopping mall with a dazzling spiral staircase – brass rails gleaming and thick glass steps leading up to two other levels.
He usually had no trouble spotting his mother because of her bright red hair. But being short didn’t help in this crowd. He squeezed through a noisy mob of bustling passengers, porters with luggage, and busy waiters. Maybe I can go upstairs and look over the railing for her, he thought. He looked way up at the balconies and tried to figure out where would be a good perch. He could see a–
“Oooof!” Something hit him and drove the air from his lungs like a popped tire. He clutched his chest in pain, crumpled up, and hit the floor, his new glasses spinning across the carpet.
Someone asked, “Are you alright?”
“He came out of nowhere,” said another.
Rory looked up at a wash of blurry faces as he fumbled around for his glasses. If I lose those ugly things, Mom will kill me was the first desperate thought he had. His fingers found the lenses and he planted the glasses back on his nose. Things got worse. He was woozy and wondered if this was his first attack of seasickness. It sure wasn’t what he expected. He smiled helplessly at the distorted faces around him.
“Give me those!” a man’s angry voice growled.
Before Rory could think, the glasses were snatched off his face and another pair were thrust into his hands. He put them on and the world refocused. Sprawled on the floor beside him was a very old man, with a spotty weathered face full of wrinkles and bushy gray whiskers, attaching the other glasses to his own bony nose. He had the stub of a cigar clenched between crooked yellow teeth and froze Rory with a glare that could raise warts.
Rory dropped his eyes, half embarrassed and half scared. He didn’t know where the old guy could have come from so fast. I must have run right into him, he figured. A couple of men reached down and put their hands under the old man’s elbows to hoist him to his feet.
“Let me be!” he roared, with a voice like a ripsaw, and yanked his arms away so fiercely he nearly toppled over again. “You think me frail? Why, you pups, I’ll dance on your graves!”
The two men backed away, holding their hands up. “Suit yourself, pops,” said one.
“That boy ran right into you!” said a woman in pink tights. “I saw the whole thing.”
Rory’s mother, Claire Farentino, appeared through the thicket of onlookers and helped him up. “What happened, Rory? What’s going on?” She was a tiny woman, who looked like a wind could blow her over. With her dyed red hair, sparkling eyes, and sharp features, he sometimes thought she looked like an exotic bird.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t see–” Rory began.
“That’s plain enough!” snapped the old man. He plucked the cigar from his teeth, and his eyes darted here and there as though he wasn’t sure where he was. “The child should be on a leash, madam,” he said, recovering himself. He brushed off his jacket sleeves and straightened his cuffs. Reaching down, he scooped up his brown felt hat with a gnarled old hand. “First he capsizes me, then tries to snatch my spectacles.”
“Rory? Why would he want your glasses?” Claire asked him, baffled.
Rory didn’t dare speak. He stole a guilty glance at the disapproving faces of the strangers gathered around. It didn’t look good. Old man: 10, Rory: 0.
“The boy is dangerous,” an elderly woman declared, clicking her teeth. “If it was me, I’d have broken a hip for sure.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Are you hurt?” Claire asked the old man while she brushed him off, as if to help smooth his hackles.
“No, madam. I am not,” his buzz saw voice replied. He slapped the hat on his head and snatched a walking stick that someone held out to him. Then he shot Rory another vile stare. As their eyes met, Rory froze. A lump slithered down his throat like an ice snake and wrapped a coil of cold fear around his heart. He couldn’t tear his eyes away.
For an instant, Rory found himself back in the past, standing beside that pool, helplessly watching his brother, Ian, thrash around and gasp for air. It felt like a hand had gripped his throat and was squeezing this horrible memory from him. Then it released him and he reeled back, as though he’d just been slapped.
“Lay off my course, boy!” the old man warned, and limped off through the crowd.
After a stunned silence, Rory’s mom looked at him. “What was that all about? You went sheet white,” she said. The few remaining bystanders whispered reproachfully, then went off about their business.
Rory could barely find his voice. “I did … I mean, I didn’t …” He stopped. His eyes were riveted on the spot where the old man had stood. “I didn’t see him,” he finally said. The stabbing, painful image of Ian vanished so fast, he wasn’t sure it had happened.
“Oh, well. You might try to be more careful,” his mom scolded.
“Uh-huh,” he agreed absently. He shouldered his duffel bag and shuffled after her across the lobby to the elevators, trying to figure out what just happened. Rory’s new stepfather, Eddie Farentino, was waiting for them with the rest of the luggage.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Rory ran some poor old man down,” Claire explained. “Honestly, Rory, you should pay more attention.”
“Typical,” Eddie added.
Rory couldn’t stand Eddie. With his flabby gut tucked into a big eddie’s deals on wheels T-shirt, he acted like a big cheese because he owned a couple of used-car lots. Rory thought he was a know-it-all jerk, like one of those greasy fatsoes who play a gangster’s bodyguard in the movies. Guys that are always nicknamed things like Poundcake or Meatball. The less said about Eddie, the better, he thought.
“That old man was totally weird,” Rory whispered to his mother as they all rode the crowded glass elevator up. “Do you think he’s a wacko?”
“What do you expect when you knock people down all over the place?” she replied. “He’s probably a perfectly nice man who thinks you’re the one who’s a wacko.”
Rory didn’t disagree. All the same, he felt there was something deeply creepy about the old man. Something decidedly not right. He rubbed his chest where they’d collided, then turned to more pleasant thoughts…
This was the first time he’d ever been at sea, even though he had been in love with ships, especially the Titanic, for years. He’d read books about them, drawn up blueprints, and built models of them. He had wanted to take this trip so badly that he’d promised to do anything his mom asked. Even get good grades and behave during the boring week they had just spent in England.
Eddie poked a chubby finger into his ribs. “Wait’ll you see the great cabin we got, sport,” he crowed, as people got off on Deck 1.
Rory flinched and swiped at the finger. “It’s called a stateroom. And stop calling me sport.”
“Whatever,” Eddie replied.
Right outside the elevator doors, a waterfall splashed over pink stones. Surrounding it were a few small trees and vines, with a sweet musty scent that wafted into Rory’s nose. Overhead a skylight cast glimmers of afternoon light through the leaves that glinted like diamonds on the splashing water. Wow! Rory thought all it needed was a parrot or a monkey to be like a real jungle. It sure wasn’t like any ship he’d ever imagined. Still in the elevator, they all three stood with mouths gaping.
“Are we staying here?” Rory asked, as Eddie stopped the door from closing on them.
“Isn’t it magical?” Claire said and wrapped her tiny hands around Eddie’s arm. She filled her lungs with the musty perfume. “I can’t wait to see our stateroom,” she added, with a wink at Rory.
“Grab those bags, sport,” Eddie told Rory and jammed some luggage in the door. “What’s the room number, hon?”
Claire fumbled in her purse and plucked the tickets out. “Oops. Deck 11, cabin 40. This is the wrong deck. It says 1, not 11.”
“On a ship, the low numbers always start at the top,” Rory explained.
With a heavy sigh, Eddie dragged the bags back in and pressed 11. “Betcha it’ll be just as nice,” he said, as they started down.
Picking up and letting off other passengers all the way down, they finally got to 11 – the bottom passenger deck. It could have been on another planet it was so different from the waterfall jungle. They peered through the elevator doors down a long narrow passage with overhead pipes. It was painted all white, with blue carpeting and a wooden handrail along both walls that was broken only by the bright blue cabin doors. As they dragged the bags out, they caught a whiff of stuffy air mixed with the smell of a cafeteria. It reminded Rory of the crappy lunches served at his school. This was more what he expected, even if it was a letdown.
Eddie rolled along cheerfully, keeping an eye on the door numbers as they hauled their luggage down endless corridors and squeezed past other passengers moving in to the cabins. They passed the doors to the main kitchen, where the reek of industrial-strength cooking hit hardest.
“Here we are,” Eddie grunted. “Number 1140.” He swiped the key card in the slot to unlock the door. “TA DA! Home for the week.”
Rory plunged in first. The room seemed no wider than the hallway, with a tiny round window at the far end. There was a sofa and dresser with a tv and a huge mirror behind it and a double bed under the window. A curtain could be drawn between the sofa and the bed. Besides a phone-booth-sized bathroom next to the door, that was it. He figured his bedroom at home was bigger than the whole works. To top it off, the reek of the kitchen hung in the air.
Claire crinkled her nose. “Oh, Eddie. Are you sure?” She heaved her suitcase onto the bed, crossed her arms, and gave the room a cold once-over. “It’s awful small for three of us, don’t you think, honey?”
Eddie shrugged and closed the door. His beefy body cut the room in half. “It’s meant to be cozy. And we didn’t expect to have Rory with us. Anyways, how much time we gonna stay here when there’s so much action on board? Like food. That kitchen smell is making me hungry.”
“It’s called a galley,” Rory informed him and pushed his glasses up his nose.
“My mistake,” Eddie replied, throwing up his hands.
Rory pressed his face to the window. They were practically at sea level. Tugboats chugged around the harbor between huge ships, all blowing stacks of black smoke into the sky while going about their business. Up close, the water was brown and almost splashed against their window. In the reflection of the glass, he watched Eddie the Poundcake wrap his big mitts around Mom. Any second they will go into their smooching routine. Yuck. I guess I should expect it. After all, this is their honeymoon.
He recalled his real dad’s phone call before they had left home. Rory couldn’t go to Chicago for vacation because Dad suddenly had to go away on business. So Eddie and Mom agreed to take him to England with them. He had wanted to come for the boat trip, but the past week of boring hotels, museums, and icky restaurants had been agony. He’d felt like one of the suitcases the whole time.
Mom had met Eddie when she was looking for a new car. That was six months ago. Since then everything was Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. Now that they were married and he was moving in with them, things would only get worse. What a drag…
Rory wished life was like it was when his dad lived at home. That was years ago. Before…the accident. He hated thinking about it because he always felt it was his fault. But he was only eight at the time and Ian was six. They were left alone for a second. Long enough for Ian to jump into the deep end of the pool after a toy. Ian couldn’t swim and Rory couldn’t save him. By the time his mom came back, it was too late: Ian was gone. It tore their family apart. Rory withdrew into himself; Mom and Dad started to fight all the time. A year later, Dad moved out. Rory knew deep inside it was all his fault, even though his parents and all those counselors said different. He knew the truth. He was in charge and Ian had died.
Funny, he thought, as he flopped on the tiny sofa, I haven’t thought about Ian for a long time. Just thinking about him always made his gut hurt. The easiest way to cope was to be invisible. So that’s what he did. He lived in his dreams and the world of ships.
“Guess this is my berth,” he mumbled. He unpacked his gear, carefully selecting places for everything. He put his laptop and mini printer at one end; his software, comic books, and cds at the other; and dropped all his clothes in a heap on the floor.
“Pick ’em up there, sport,” Eddie ordered, almost before they landed.
An hour later, the Sea Lion set sail. Rory had dreamed of this moment a thousand times, but reality was way better than anything he could imagine. He could hardly feel the ship move, it was so smooth. As he leaned over the railing and looked down the shiny blue steel hull to the tiny people on the dock far below, it looked as though the dock was moving and they were stationary. Streamers and confetti showered over everyone like falling snow. Cheers and shouts from ship and shore alike, along with blasts from the ship’s horn, ushered the floating city away from the dock.
Nothing had prepared Rory for the unbelievable size of this ship. He had seen photos in the brochure and imagined being on the Titanic, but pictures couldn’t show the enormity. He had read that the ship was bigger than three football fields and that it weighed 100,000 tons. But those were just numbers and hard to picture. This was a skyscraper! It was as big as the Empire State Building floating on its side. Not only that, over three thousand people would be living aboard for the next week. They would be separated from the world, like explorers or astronauts. That notion sent a thrill right through him. A thrill of both excitement and fear.
Once they were launched and had attended a safety drill at their muster station, Rory took the elevator straight to Deck 5, where there was a foredeck at the bow. It was a big open area, with a steel floor and a railing around the rim like the front of a ferryboat. He wanted to stand there as the ship navigated the English Channel. A small crowd of people with the same idea were already there.
Elbows on the railing, with seagulls wheeling and screaming overhead, he watched the land slip past as the ship made her way through calm water. It was a warm afternoon and the air smelled heavily of fish and the oily harbor. With the wind in his face and the ship carving a road through the sea, Rory couldn’t imagine a better place to be. Off the starboard bow, the hilly coastline of England – partially shrouded in mist – faded to the blue of the sky above and the sea below. There were other ships in the lanes: tankers, sailboats, and cargo ships, all making their way to and from Europe. They looked like toys from where he stood. He knew that this was the view the passengers on the Titanic had had as she left England in April 1912.
Living in Kansas, Rory had never spent time near water. He loved the idea of the quiet open space of the ocean much more than the open skies of the prairies because the thought of being unreachable at sea appealed to him. However, under his sandy bangs, which only ever got combed with his fingers, and blue eyes squinting through a first pair of glasses that itched his ears, he knew he looked more like a boy from the world of computers than a suntanned seaman.
He thought everything about himself was gawky and stupid, and never liked looking in a mirror. Still under five feet, he was a bit short for twelve. He was all elbows and knees, tripping into things. His nose and chin were pointy like his mother’s, but his ears stuck out like his dad’s. Add in the geeky wire glasses and he figured he was the goofiest-looking kid in school.
Since Ian’s death, Rory had withdrawn from his friends and family. At school he ate alone and spent his free time at the computers, or in the library. At home he read stories, watched movies, and explored the Internet for chat groups and other stuff on ships. His attitude came off as snobby to the boys at school. They teased him and called him Retard Rory. It didn’t help that he tried to use a vocabulary that he could barely manage.
Rory took off his glasses to wipe away the sea mist. The memory of getting them knocked off by the strange old man made him queasy, like suddenly recalling forgotten homework just before school. Everything about the old guy was so weird. Those crooked teeth, hollow eyes, and spotty bald head. He was almost like a skeleton in that old-fashioned tweedy suit and tie. He had one of those high white collars and buttoned vests you see in old movies. In fact, he was so out of place with everyone else in their sports clothes and T-shirts, it was like he had been dropped on the ship from some other time.
But it was the poisonous stare and strange words that creeped Rory out most. The expression, “I’ll dance on your graves,” had him really spooked. Like that nasty sensation you get when you hear a noise behind you when you’re walking home alone at night. You don’t want to turn around because you don’t really want to know if someone is there, but you’ve got to find out for sure. Strangely, the more he thought about the incident, the less detail he remembered.
Rory shuddered and looked over his shoulder to see if anyone noticed. He was alone! All the other passengers had left the foredeck without him even noticing. The ship was headed for open sea and his grumbling stomach told him it was probably time for supper.
Table of Contents
Rory Goes to Sea
A Suspicious Character
An Ally, a Grandmother, and a Kick in the Pants
An Old Photo
A Precarious Friendship
A Storm at Sea
Line of Fire
Teaming Up with Trouble
To the Rescue
A Fiend’s Curse
Another Cursed Sailor
Rory Is Betrayed
The Trick of the Curse
The Demon’s Fury
The Curse Is Broken