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Perish Island's Museum of Lost Souls

By K.H. ObergfollPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 15 min read
Photo by Maksym Sirman on Unsplash

Some say what happens in the dark always surfaces eventually; the same can’t be said for certain unlucky visitors to the Waterway Aquarium as you will soon discover.

It had been quite a feat to bring the sea to such a boring town as Waterway—a quiet city that overlooked a jagged cliff where the biggest claim to fame was a one-lane bridge that lead to an old abandoned cemetery—Perish Grove— rumored to be long haunted by unsettled spirits. The cemetery was only open for visitor’s one-hour a day and you could hear the bells jingling from across the bridge as they called out, begging for new friends to visit.

“I don’t want to go,” Alex McConnell whined as his parent’s blue four-door sedan pulled onto the bumpy pavement. He couldn’t understand why they had to stop in such a boring place.

“The guy said to roll down the windows,” his dad Steve’s foot tapped the break a few times as the clear, crisp sounds of bells filled the car like melodic wind chimes—quieting them with wonder, lulling them further onto the steel contraption. After what felt like an eternity they reached an unusual sight—trees that looked like they belonged out of a tropical island.

A rusted sign overhead read—“Perish Grove Cemetery”—below it, was another sign—“population, eighteen-hundred.”

“That’s cute,” Alex’s mom Lindsay muttered, “get it, the cemetery’s like a small town.”

“Yeah, that’s something when there are more people in the cemetery than the whole town of Waterway and Summer Isles combined,” Alex’s father Steve added with a nervous chuckle.

“See, that’s even more reason we shouldn’t visit,” Alex continued as he slammed his feet down angrily onto the floorboards in protest. He was growing dizzier by the second as the jolting movement of the paved planks rocked the car back and forth in unsettling waves.

“Well, you’re outnumbered and besides, your brother wants to see the Aquarium. We are going to do that before we leave for the hotel.”

Alex glared in his brother Michael’s direction but was soon interrupted by the sight of a scraggly woman in a floor-length hoop skirt and a tattered shawl standing in the roadway ahead of them, a cloud of disturbed dust forming around her.

“Park over there please and keep your hands to yourselves, make your way towards me, that’s it, tour starts in five minutes…”

“We didn’t pay for a tour,” Alex hissed, his growing aggravation and unease apparent.

“Are you scared,” Michael whispered, sticking his tongue out and making a face.

“No, I just think it’s a waste of time…that’s all.”

“Death is but a waste, they have all the time in the world, more than you or I,” the old woman said, a wink lighting her eyes as she gave Alex a nudge before slipping something wrapped in velvet into his hand.

“Ah…Ah…Ah, no peeking,” the woman whispered, “it’s a gift for you, keep it close,” the woman nodded, tapping the side of her pocket.

“Whatever,” Alex whispered—quickly tucking the small gift into his pocket as he moved closer to his mom.

“I think this will be fun,” their mother Lindsay urged, wrapping her arms around her sons and pushing them further into the winding cobblestone road.

“You see, much of this land is unlike anything else you will find in Waterway,” the woman began; her eyes focused on Alex. “The town was built in the early seventeen-hundreds—times when considerable bouts of disease and famine ravaged the population—decimating them by the hundreds. As the years went by the town never recovered their numbers and were in dire need of an isolated place to bury their dead—as a result, Perish Grove was born. Locals call it Perish Island because it’s only accessible by bridge—one way in, one way out, and as you can guess, most of the original inhabitants on this Island only ever traveled here to be buried…so…”

The woman’s voice trailed off as she stared into the tree line.

“These are much different times. Much different…”

The woman shook off whatever horrid thoughts weighed her down before continuing on with her story—“the trees you see around you were transplanted from coastal regions across the world, thought to bring good luck and prosperity, same with the bells. If you stopped by the town-hall Edward should have told you to roll down your windows at the start of the bridge but I’m sure you could hear the bells ringing for miles before. Contrary to popular belief—the bells weren’t for the dead to ring. They were implemented to ward off evil spirits, ringing with the winds—blessing over each departed soul with a comforting energy.” She paused to catch her breath and add a little suspense.

“They’ve never, ever stopped or so I’ve been told. The bells have been ringing for nearly three-hundred years.”

Alex looked over at the pitted grave-markers. An assortment of bells were strung along the tops of each stone cap as far as his eyes could see— some silver, some gold and others rosy-bronze colors with beads and jewels, while many were plain, a few were shaped like tiny lanterns with stars and hearts punctured into the cold forgotten metal. They seemed to ring even though no gust of wind could be felt.

“Guests, visitors, long-lost family members and other travelers have brought bells from far and wide—some witching bells, others spirit catchers, and a few blessed ones. They are such a sight to see at night, twinkling like gilded stars off the moonlight…”

“I thought the tours only go for an hour a day,” Alex queried, his curiosity piqued.

“Yes my boy, you are correct,” the woman smiled, checking her timepiece. “Which reminds me, we’ve got to get going, the best has yet to come…”

“Wait, why’s that, how does one get to see the bells at night,” Alex continued but the old woman ignored him as she continued on, moving the group farther along down the path until they came to an area that looked nothing like the rest of the cemetery. A fountain of some sort sat hidden behind arched flowering ivy and moss covered rocks.

“The cemetery is full of noble men and women, a poet, an author, a few clergy, some politicians and the aquarium founder himself—Walter S. Ainsley—our most esteemed guest to date.”

Alex turned his head curiously, following the woman’s outstretched hand towards a modest slab—the name “Ainsley” carved into the top. The dates were hard to make out, but his grave had the most bells—they were stringed crisscrossed and intertwined as though to keep his grave covered.

“It’s a witch’s blanket my dear,” the woman cooed as though reading his mind, her voice sending chills down Alex’s spine.

“Don’t let it fool you, it’s rumored to keep his bad-spirits at bay—quite literally, Mr. Ainsley was after all a conjurer of water, if you visit the Aquarium you will see why. We keep a fountain running at the farthest part of the island, nearest his grave—we think it helps him stay grounded…”

“Are we able to see the fountain,” Alex asked, leaning closer to the opening in the woods.

“No, not at this time, we don’t keep the fountain open for guests, sorry…” the woman whispered, a somber tone to her voice.

“So where the other town folks get buried? Is there another cemetery back in town or is this it,” Alex’s father Steve asked, his hand slightly raised as he gave the woman a keen smile. There didn’t seem to be any more room for new plots.

“No…sooner or later we all end up in the same place,” the woman replied, a smirk forming along the tight lines of her lips as she shrugged her shoulders in an air of indifference—“I think that about wraps it up for today, let’s make our way back to the front,” she called out in a cheery voice, much different than her earlier ominous tone.

Alex couldn’t help but notice fresh mounds of dirt stamped into the ground a few rows back and what looked like newly dug holes.

“Hurry, the gates will close, don’t want to be stuck here when the sunsets,” the woman begged— rousing Alex from his thoughts as she ushered them all back to the parking lot.

By Raimond Klavins on Unsplash

“What’d you think Alex,” his mom Lindsay asked as they got into their car to leave.

“For someone who wasn’t that interested you surely asked a lot of questions,” his dad Steve began, “that’s good, it’s good to ask questions.”

“It was alright,” Alex replied. He was now very interested in seeing the aquarium.

A short while later they pulled into another bustling parking lot. Alex’s eyes were glued to the mirror-like windows that stretched on down the coast line—the sun reflected off them like a blinding beacon.

Salty sprays misted unassuming guests as the McConnell family ventured in—“ten dollars a ticket, keep ‘em coming,” a short, stout man in a woolen suit called over the fray. Six brass buttons dotted the man’s midsection, a short-brimmed hat hung over his aging eyes as Alex took hold of a ticket, walking through a turnstile as they were welcomed into a foyer that circled up towards the sky like a lighthouse. Something about the man looked familiar but Alex couldn’t place it.

“Right this way,” a younger attendant called out, directing guests towards a steep incline. “Head up to the tip-top and work your way down, stay inside the ropes and don’t forget to have fun.”

Overhead a series of speakers relayed the history of how the Aquarium came to be—“we want to welcome you to Waterway Aquarium, a world of its own that never sleeps. We hope you enjoy the exhibit as much as we do…” the voice began.

“Founded in Eighteen-Hundred and Twenty-three, Walter S. Ainsley put his entire life into creating the underwater world you see before you; his own personal collection of sea-creatures and other animals that are found in no other place on earth.”

This gave Alex McConnell more pause as he pushed his face closer to the glass. He knew the glowing-serpent crabs, spine-shelled turtles and crazed puffer orbs lived for hundreds of years but he couldn’t imagine the likes of clam-sharks and horned shadow-worms living much longer than a decade.

The signs next to each tank spelled out what was inside—one in particular caught his eye—wandering fountain reefs—striking peach and sea-foam colored mountains of castle-shaped ridges that jutted up high above him. Tunnels carved into openings the size of a small car dug down deep into the bottomless water.

A shiny-backed mantle-ray slithered across the next tanks bottom, waving the sand in neat little rows. Fragments of something bronze glittered from beneath the sand causing Alex to reach into his pocket almost instinctively. He’d forgotten about the strange gift the old woman had given him back at the cemetery as he pulled out the velvet wrapped pouch. The unmistakable sounds of a muffled metal clapper fell softly against the bowling curve of a tiny metal bell. He held the smooth rustic brass colored object between his fingers—it looked to be handmade and rather old.

Alex clutched it tightly wondering why the woman had given him a bell. Did she think he would need to ward off evil spirits? All the thoughts in the world swirled in Alex’s mind, so much so that he hadn’t realized he had gotten lost in the chaos. Hordes of visitors gathered around the front of another tank—where something translucent billowed in the water, puffing in and out as it plopped along the side of the glass. He couldn’t see his parents or his brother Michael anywhere and he still didn’t know what was so unique about this Aquarium, it looked just like all the others he’d visited back home.

Up ahead the splash of giant waves hurdled over the side of an open tank—rushing into an underground tunnel. He could practically taste the salt as it gently misted his face, tickling his senses. As he followed a crowd further down he could see coastline underwater as it curved and cut down the side of the Aquarium where sunken ship remnants lined the ocean floors crisp, clear waters.

Alex edged closer to the curved glass, it seemed the water was darkening— clouds were forming overhead as large droplets of icy cold rain mixed into the foaming waves. With each passing hour Alex was reminded—he had yet to find his family. How hard could it be? It didn’t help that the Aquarium branched out in all directions—with hallways and dimly lit passages leading nowhere.

A nasally voice continued on the speakers overhead—“all the tunnels connect to the nearby islands making traveling underwater opportune. When they were created it was especially good during times of drought and plagues. If you look over to your left you will see what is left of the Perish Island waterway, most of which is covered by reefs. It’s believed that the wildlife feeds off of the spirits of our towns dead but that is all speculation. What is known is that each year since Aquarium founder Walter S. Ainsley died—someone goes missing from the town of Waterway never to be seen again. Each year, a bell is placed in their honor at the foot of Perish Island Bridge and is thought to protect the travelers. If you look closely at the tanks you might see pieces of broken bells, Walter S. Ainsley himself broke a piece and buried them at the four-corners of the Aquarium. Explorers from all over the country have tried unsuccessfully to collect these pieces but magically they seem to reappear overnight. Some say it’s the way of the old Ainsley Curse, many think the old man never died, instead, thinking he lives deep in the reefs. The truth and what you believe is up to you…” the voice cut out as a bell chimed loudly in the distance.

Alex heard an old man whistling near the other side of the tunnel.

“Sir, excuse me sir, what time is it? I’m trying to find my family, think we got separated in the crowd.”

“Kid—that’s impossible, it’s nearly midnight here, how’d you get down here anyways?” the man asked shaking his head skeptically; a dustpan and broom in his weathered hands.

“I just walked down a few minutes ago, before the clouds rolled in, there was a whole group of people behind me…”

Alex looked back down the hall, it was empty. The water was a deep, beckoning shade of sapphire. The old man shook his head.

“I promise you there’s no one else here but me and you, if you make your way up the ramp and make a right the exit‘ll be right there. See yourself out; payphone is on the curb…press the number three and you get a dial tone to call out.”

Alex furrowed his eyebrows in disbelief. How could his family have left him all alone? He walked over to the ramp like the old man had said, the bell still clutched tightly in his hand. As he got nearer the door something gave him pause—there wasn’t a car or person in the entire lot. A payphone sat lonely under a streetlamp. Bits of wayward paper scuttled along the pavement. The silent roar of wayward waves lapped against the docked walls of the Aquarium, one right after the other.

He turned back around and walked over to where the bright peach and turquoise fountain reefs had been; now in the darkness the tank looked oddly suspicious. He held his hand up to the glass but it was gone. Something bright shone off in the distance—nearer the rippling pools of lapping water. Alex stepped over the velvet ropes and waded into the tank. The sand was much thicker than he expected as it swallowed his feet whole. He stuck his hand into the reef opening but the shiny object was further down. Alex paused, turning to look around for the old man, seeing no sign of him, he tucked the bell back into his pocket before stepping deeper and deeper into the cool water but the shiny object was just out of reach. He finally had no other choice but to hold his breathe and dive down into the reefs opening.

Plumes of ice rushed past him as he swam into the crystallized reef tunnel. Pockets of air presented themselves and Alex took full advantage. The sting of salt burned his eyes as he breathed in the much alive reef—whose walls ballooned out like lungs around him. From his spot in the tank he could no longer see the opening above.

He tip-toed along the reefs edge until he came to a soft algae covered set of steps that led upward into a monsterous cave. It was like he knew what to do next as he stepped carefully onto the slippery stone. He had to be at Perish Island, he could smell the sweltering trees and hear the jingle of a thousand bells as he climbed up the narrow steps before making way into what looked like the basin of the hidden fountain. This wasn’t just any fountain; it had to be the size of a large pool—completely round in shape with scalloped edges and smooth soft white sides. The fountain was bone dry.

Up above he could hear the quiet humming of a woman as he tiptoed nearer the fountain edge, his hand tightly wrapped around the bell as to not disturb a soul.

“We’d been expecting you,” the woman’s sing-song voice whispered through the trees. As he peered over it soon became clear, there were hundreds of ghostly spirits soaring up amidst the glittering moon-lit bells. No one would believe what he had seen, no one.

By John Wilson on Unsplash

AdventureFableYoung Adult

About the Creator

K.H. Obergfoll

Writing my escape, my future…if you like what you read—leave a comment, an encouraging tip, or a heart—I’m always looking to improve, let me know if there is anything I can do better.

& above all—thank you for your time

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  • Hannah Moore4 months ago

    Very eerie!

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