Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 1—Martha’s Price

Martha's PricePhineas Wilkes said, “Martha Price was a mean tyrant of a bitch that was married to a sea captain in the 1800’s.” Phineas began this tale of Martha Price to his cousin, Jimmy, who was visiting Phineas’s family at their Mystic Island home. Phineas, Jimmy, and Phineas’s two friends, Ralph and Peter, sat on Bishop’s Beach. Peter ate chocolate-covered donuts from a cellophane package. Ralph threw rocks at an empty iced-tea bottle discarded on the sand. It was Halloween, and Phineas thought it the perfect time for a good ole fashioned ghost story. “The captain really loved her,” Phineas said, “like, obsessively. But she was a real harpy. Let’s just say, she was not the most faithful of wives. She cheated on him, stole from him, and some say she even murdered their infant son just to spite him. Even though it probably wasn’t even his kid in the first place,” he added, his voice drenched in the solemn tone of the tale, his eyes gleaming like the dying sunlight reflecting off the ocean’s water.  “Anyway, Captain Price was in one of those, can’t live with’er, can’t live without’er situations, so he killed her, and walled away good ole Martha in their sitting room.”

“What do you mean, walled away?” Jimmy said.

“He made a place in the wall and sealed her in there,” Phineas said.

“I heard she wasn’t even dead when he did it,” Ralph said.

Peter swallowed an oversized bite of donut and said, “I heard that, too. I heard the captain knocked her out, and when she woke, she was in the wall. She died screaming and pounding, and Captain Price just sat there, drinking whiskey until she finally stopped trying to claw her way out.”

“Now she haunts the place,” Ralph said, nodding like a bobble-head doll.

“That’s right,” Phineas said, nodding his head as well. Phineas may have nodded in agreement with his friend, but Phineas did not actually agree with his friend. Oh sure, Phineas believed the tale of Captain Price’s revenge on his young bride’s… ahem, indiscretions. If Phineas didn’t believe the story, he wouldn’t be planning what he planned to do that night. But Phineas laughed at the idea of Martha Price’s tortured spirit searching for peace in the walls of the Old Price House. He laughed at most dumb ghost stories. And Martha’s ghost was among the dumbest. No one would even live in the Price House.  A beautiful, huge Victorian house and nobody even wanted the place. Homeowner after homeowner was frightened off by the tale of murder and the bumps and groans of their new home. But Phineas knew that the people were just scaring themselves, turning the bumps and groans, known to any old house settling, into Martha Price. It was like the movie, Jaws. When it came out, it scared people so badly that some stopped swimming all together. Millions of people turning a silly mechanical shark into an intense phobia.

Well, not him, not Phineas Wilkes, no way. He wouldn’t turn bumps in the night or mechanical sharks into anything. And if Martha Price was walled up in that old house, she’d stay there. Why? Because she was dead, that’s why. And then he’d win the bet. Steve Mitchner betting that Phineas couldn’t find the lost brooch of Martha Price. Mitchner offering up his custom Haro GT bike as stakes. Phineas figured that over the years, countless kids had snuck into the house trying to find the brooch, but they were all turned back, fleeing from the imagined presence of the brooch’s one true owner. But that’s all it was: an imagined presence. Phineas could probably convince half his class to stay away from Lyme Street by telling them disease-carrying ticks infested the bushes. Why do you think they named it Lyme Street? And that’s all they’d need to never walk down that street again.

Phineas decided he was going into the Price House that night. And somehow, he talked Ralph and Peter into being his witnesses and lookouts. And Cousin Jimmy? Cousin Jimmy was just along for the ride, and a killer ghost story to tell his friends back home.

“Anyway,” Phineas said, “Martha wore this brooch. You know, like the ones that are brown and white with a profile of a lady on it.”

“A cameo,” Peter said.

“Yeah, one of them,” Phineas said. “Anyway, after Captain Price killed Martha, he carried that brooch around with him. Some say he even talked to it, thinking Martha’s soul was trapped in it.”

Cousin Jimmy’s Adam’s apple bounced in his neck.

“Well, good ole Captain Price went mad,” Phineas said, “and when the authorities came to take him away, he hid that brooch somewhere in the house, once again sealing Martha’s soul for eternity.”

“Wow,” Jimmy said.

Phineas smiled, satisfied with his cousin’s reaction.

“I heard that when he talked to the brooch, it talked back to him,” Ralph said.

“Wow,” Phineas’s cousin said again.

Phineas let the story hang in the darkening beach’s quiet. He looked out at the waves under the violet sky and said, “I’m going after that brooch tonight.”

Continued in: Reflections, Echoes, and the Mechanical Shark: Part 2—Trick or B and E

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