The old boat had tempted Ben and Joe for years but they had been too little to get aboard.
Now they were older, it was different. The old boat would make a great den and they could maybe sleep there, if they could sneak out in the night. No-one seemed to care about it. It had been just one of many abandoned to rot, scattered among the better-loved boats along the river’s edge. It would be something to tell the other kids. ‘We stayed out all night by the river. We stayed in that boat.’
Now it was late autumn. It was getting dark and the day was too unpleasant for even the most dedicated sailors to be out renovating or maintaining their boats. There was not one other person about to see Ben and Joe squelch across the mud and clamber aboard. They could stash their things and come back later when everyone was asleep.
There was a wailing around them, the wind was getting up. The clattering in the shrouds ‘clink clink clink’ might have been eerie if they hadn’t been used to it, living along the riverside as they did.
They dragged a ladder from another boat and propped it up. The old boat smelled of leaked oil and rotten wood. Shards of peeling paint scratched them as they got on board.
‘Now what?’ said Ben.
They stood on deck and ate snacks, taking it in turns to pretend to steer, to stand on the prow, to clamber up on the wheelhouse.
It started to rain.
‘Guess we’d better stash our things below,’ said Joe.
They peered down between the rotten timbers, nails rusted and exposed, ready to grab them as they descended.
‘No you are’.
Together they dropped down inside. There was a smell. An old smell like the ghost of a smell. Joe pulled a bit of broken hand rail from the ceiling and prodded about in the dark galley. Powder from long decayed food collapsed. Beetles scurried.
‘Not sure about staying down here,’ he said. Rainwater had puddled on the floor.
‘What about the aft cabin?’ said Ben.
It was wedged shut. An old anchor was propped against it and hooked under the frame. The boys yanked, their hands slipping in rust, the smell of corrosion rising.
With a final wrench, the anchor split the wood and the door sprung open.
A skeletal hand fell through and landed on Joe’s foot…
Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission