First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
Home of Dr. Lee Brazil
December 15, 2019, 4:13 A.M.
It was a very cold February evening. Just before sunset. The sky was a crimson red. The sea was calm and still, like a dark sheet of glass that reflected back the fading light of the sun. The weather was clear. There was no wind. A five-mast schooner, The Carol Deering, with full sail sat dead in the water, twenty nautical miles southwest of Cape Hatteras. The schooner was en route to Norfolk, but carrying no cargo.
One by one, the crew of the ship appeared on deck. They did not speak. They moved toward the lifeboats. A deafening silence hung over the ship. As The Carol Deering rocked gently, they lowered the lifeboats into the icy water. They were abandoning ship, but there was no storm. There was no panic. The schooner was not sinking.
The wheelhouse had already been abandoned. The captain was packing his charts and nautical instruments into one of the lifeboats with the assistance of a crewman. Again, no words were being spoken. There was no sound except those of the men’s footsteps and the lapping of the sea against the hull of the great schooner.
Off the starboard bow was a bright, metallic blue light. It was not the moon or a star or a planet. It was not a ship’s searchlight or a beacon. It was different from all of these in its color, a metallic blue, and it was high above the water and did not move.
A man dressed in black stood on the bow of the schooner. He was a priest. He appeared mesmerized by the light. A young blond seaman placed a small gold cross with seven green stones that seemed to glow in the priest’s right hand. The priest remained fixated on the light. Another crewman, a black man, took the priest by the arm and began to lead him to a lifeboat. Again, no words were spoken. The young blond seaman assisted this crewman and the priest into a lifeboat and then lowered them into the dark motionless water.
As the first stars of the evening appeared, a heavy gray fog rolled in, first from the West and then from the East. One by one, the lifeboats from The Carol Deering were swallowed up by the fog. The young blond seaman remained on the schooner’s deck. His bright green eyes continued to glow like the stones in the cross as the fog rolled over The Carol Deering.
Lee woke up. He rubbed his eyes. He’d had the same dream for the last three nights. When the fog rolled over the schooner, the dream ended and he awoke.
Lee lay back and took a deep breath.
In the last few weeks, for reasons he did not understand, he had felt drawn to learn more about The Carol Deering. Built in Maine, it had been lost in the Bermuda Triangle in 1921. On a cold morning in late February, the five-mast schooner had been found grounded on the Diamond Shoals off North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When the Coast Guard boarded the schooner, the crew was gone as were the lifeboats and the captain’s instruments and records. It was a ghost schooner. Why it had been abandoned, no one knew. And why Lee had suddenly become so interested in the schooner? He did not know. But he found himself on websites devoted to the Triangle. He had depleted the Winterpool Community Library of all their books about Bermuda. They only had two. And now he had begun to dream about this ghost schooner, The Carol Deering. Lee had at first justified these Internet searches because of his concern for his patient, Frank Bowman. Frank had returned to see Lee complaining of having dreams about the Bermuda Triangle that made no sense to him. But when Lee began having the same dreams, he realized that something else was driving his interest to the point of obsession. He told himself it was just another sign that he was burning out and another indicator that he should get completely out of clinical work. But he knew there was more to it. But what?
Lee turned and tossed for a while. He finally managed to doze off. The alarm did not wake him when it went off at 6:30 A.M. He was late for his first patient.
Whites Ferry Road
December 15, 2019, 3:43 P.M.
Frank had spent most of the day in his office at home. He had had a terrible night. He left a note for his wife not to disturb him. She had tried to talk with him, but he had refused to open the door. Finally, she gave up and left to take the children to school and, he assumed, to go on to work. His cell phone rang a number of times that morning, but he refused to answer it.
Most of the calls were from her.
Finally, in mid-afternoon he had decided to throw some clothes and some toiletries into a bag. He had called a realtor. And as he had been instructed to do, he had rented the White’s cabin. The realtor had hesitated at first, but she knew Frank. Frank decided not to wait to try to explain to his wife what he was doing. He left. He drove around until it was close to dark. The realtor said she would leave the keys in the mailbox. He had been adamant with her that he had to be in the cabin by nightfall. He had called Dr. Brazil’s office and left a message pleading for him to meet him at the cabin this evening. He had been instructed to do this also. The man in the dream had told him to. It had all been so clear in the dream. He was sure if he told anyone about the dream, they would think he was crazy. Maybe even Dr. Brazil would think he was crazy.
He would get to the cabin before dark. He was sure that Dr. Brazil would meet him there in the evening. Frank needed desperately to understand what was happening to him. The dream kept replaying itself in his head. There was a schooner in the dream, a ghost schooner named The Carol Deering. There was an old man on the deck of The Carol Deering — an old man with a beard. Frank had never seen him. But he was speaking directly to Frank. The old man, who said his name was Griff, had a message for Dr. Brazil. He said that Frank must deliver the message. He said that Frank must tell Dr. Brazil that he would be visited by someone he did not trust who would ask him for a favor — a favor that Dr. Brazil must not refuse. It was very important, the old man said. Frank kept hearing the voice over and over again in his head. I’m losing my mind, he said to himself. He was on White’s Ferry Road now. He would be at the cabin in a few minutes. The fog was getting thicker, but he was almost there.
December 15, 2019, 9:16 P.M.
What distinguishes men from the rest of animals is his ability to do artificial things.
~ Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano
In the early evening fog Lee had to concentrate to keep the car on the road. This was especially difficult since Lee wanted to think about other things — Europe and the vacation he and his wife had been planning for months — and not think about the fog or the road or the reason he was out in the pucker brush trying to drive on this godforsaken road on such a miserable evening.
He had not seen his patient Frank Bowman in five years. Frank had shown up in Lee’s office two weeks ago complaining of feeling nervous and anxious and having sleep problems. He wanted to talk that very day, so Lee arranged an emergency appointment for later in the afternoon. Frank complained about having strange dreams, dreams about pirates and a lost sea captain. The dreams didn’t “make any sense” to him, Frank said. He was especially upset by one in which a young woman — he remembered her name, Theo — was begging for her life. He remembered that very clearly.
This morning, as Lee was trying to get out the door to the office, the phone rang. Loretta, Lee’s receptionist, was calling to tell Lee that Frank had called his office early this morning. Loretta had come in early to do filing and had taken the message.
“Frank sounded agitated,” she said. Loretta loved to use professional words, like ‘labile’ and ‘agitated.’ She said he would call back, but he hadn’t yet. He said he couldn’t keep his 6:00 P.M. appointment at the office because it “wouldn’t be safe.” But he said he had to see Lee this evening. He said it was urgent. He explained that he was no longer living with his wife and had taken a winter rental near White’s Ferry, 629 White’s Ferry Road, to be exact. Lee reluctantly agreed to the meeting and told Loretta to call Frank Bowman back and confirm the time. She told Lee not to rush. She would “cover for him” about being late with his first patient. She had always been good at that.
It had been a very long day. Lee was not in the habit of making house calls, but Frank Bowman sounded terrified and Lee was feeling very anxious and confused about the case. Lee had initially tried to help Frank understand the meaning of the dreams that he was having. But Frank had shown little interest in these interpretations, which Lee, to be honest, was hard-pressed to come up with, since he did not understand their relationship to Frank’s life either. But something more was going on than just watching too many old reruns of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Frank had seen Lee initially five years ago after the death of a close friend. It had occurred in a strange boating accident in Bermuda. Lee remembered that his friend’s body had never been recovered. Frank, who was in his late forties, had been married for a number of years. He said his marriage was a happy one. He had two children and worked in the reinsurance industry that required him to travel frequently between Portland and Bermuda. Reinsurance companies, Lee had learned from Frank, were the ones that took the risk that most insurance companies didn’t want to take. They insured the insurance company. According to Frank, Maine and Bermuda were two of the industry’s “hot spots.” Most reinsurance companies were located in Portland or Hamilton.
“Turn right on Mill Turn Road,” said the mechanical voice. Thank God for GPS, thought Lee. He could barely see the road, much less the road signs.
It was starting to snow. The roads would be freezing soon. “This was a bad idea and getting worse,” Lee muttered to himself. “I’m too old for this crap.” Lee made the turn onto Mill Turn.
Snow wasn’t in the forecast. When Lee had left the office, the sky had been clear. Orion was rising in the eastern sky.
“In 300 feet turn right on White’s Ferry Road,” the mechanical voice directed. Lee slowed the car to a crawl.
Okay, there it is. I think. He turned.
“Recalculating,” said the mechanical voice.
“Oh, shut up,” groaned Lee. “So I missed it. Keep your shirt on. I’ll turn around.” And he did, with some difficulty, and turned again. His wife, Liz, was always complaining that he should buy a new smartphone with advanced navigation. But his old smartphone was smart enough. He hated technology, especially new technology. In the years before, he had looked forward to retirement when he would not have to carry a pager anymore. Lee didn’t carry a pager anymore, but smartphones were worse. Why should he buy something with “advanced features” on it when he didn’t use the basic features he had now? If it wasn’t broke, why the hell fix it? Lee knew the answer to that. Money. Good old capitalism. “Go shopping,” as George W. would say.
“Go .3 miles. 629 White’s Ferry Road is on your right.”
Lee began to notice that the fog up ahead had a strange orange glow. The combination of fog and snow on the coast in December was not unusual. But having an orange glow certainly was. As he crept along the road, it seemed to be growing brighter. The orange began to mix with blue and red.
His cellphone rang. Now what? He glanced at the number. He didn’t recognize it. He picked up the phone. “This is Dr. Brazil.” The line was dead. “Another dropped call,” he groaned to himself.
Lee glanced back at the road just in time to avoid running Rob Daniels down. He was standing in the center of the road in his worn-out yellow rain suit, which he wore when he was, as Lee put it, “playing volunteer fireman.”
Rob was waving him over to the side of the road. Lee rolled down the window. “Jesum, Rob, I almost ran you over. What’s up?”
“One doozy of a fire,” said Rob with a smile. “I don’t think I’ve seen one like this before.”
“Don’t know,” said Rob. “Nothing’s left of the place. Just a pile of embers.”
“I hope nobody was in there,” said Lee, thinking about Frank.
“Melted the damn car. Melted it. Never seen anything like that. Chief hasn’t either.”
“Where’s the Chief?”
“Up there,” said Rob, pointing. “Now you be careful, Doc. There’s a
lot of . . . strange things going on around here tonight.”
“What do you mean, Rob . . . strange?”
Rob hesitated. “I don’t know, Doc. Things . . . they just aren’t right around here tonight,” he said, staring into the fog behind Lee’s car. Lee waited.
“I don’t know, Doc. Just talk to the Chief.”
Lee rolled the car window up and drove slowly up the road through the fog toward the lights. The Chief’s pick-up truck was parked behind the other rescue vehicles. He was on his cell phone.
Lee pulled over and got out of the car. He stood back, giving the Chief some privacy while he surveyed the scene. James White’s cottage was a pile of ash. Flattened. Lee had seen a lot of burned-out structures over the years with his work with the fire and rescue people, but never one like this. The plumbing, the appliances, everything melted flat.
He could hear Chief Thibodeau saying “Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” and shaking his head. Lee wondered whom he was talking to. The Chief was a big man with bright red hair, starting to gray. Clean-shaven, in his late forties. He loved his job.
The Chief ended the call and motioned to Lee. Lee extended his hand.
“How are you, Chief?”
“A little confused. It was the Feds. Why the hell are they calling me? We just got this call forty-five minutes ago. What the hell are you doing out here?”
Lee hesitated. This was one of those times when you had to decide if it was in your patient’s best interest to break confidentiality, and it seemed clear to Lee that it was.
“Well, Mike, I got a call from one of my patients. He had just rented this cottage for the winter and said he wanted to meet me here. He was insistent that we meet tonight. But what this is about, I have no idea.”
“Well, it seems the FBI knew your patient. That’s who I was on the phone with. How and why, I don’t know. I asked Chief Moore to come out. I told him the police should be involved, since this looks . . . like arson.” The Chief shook his head again, looking with puzzlement at the pile of ash that was the White’s cottage. “I don’t know exactly what it looks like.”
“Do you think anyone . . . Frank . . . was in there?”
“I don’t know. It will take twenty-four hours for this to cool down enough to allow the state and maybe the Feds to answer that question.”
The Chief continued to shake his head and motioned Lee in the direction of the field next to the cottage.
“I’ve got something.” His voice trailed off.
Through the smoke Lee could see a couple of firemen standing at the edge of the field with their flashlights.
“Look at this,” said the Chief, as he shined his light across the field. “We put this out when we got here.”
There was silence while the Chief moved his light across the field. The snow that had covered the ground had melted. The grass was flattened, singed and still smoking.
“Look at the shape of it. It’s almost a perfect circle,” said the Chief. “Better not say this to you, Doc. You’ll think I’m completely crazy, but the first thing I thought of was those damn crop circles. You know, the pranks those kids in the Midwest apparently did to make the authorities think there had been some type of ‘alien landing’? If this is a prank, it is a damned elaborate and expensive one. How the hell did they do this?”
“I don’t know. What would be the point? This makes no sense to me. Frank sounded desperate, but I don’t think . . . I don’t think he would burn the cottage down. And this business . . . a perfect circle?”
Lee looked out over the field again, as one of the firemen moved his light across the field.
“Makes no sense,” said Lee. And it didn’t.
Lee stayed for another half hour. There didn’t seem to be very much to say or do. No one understood what had happened. When Police Chief Moore arrived, he had no new insights to add.
Condominium of Joann Lawrence PORTLAND, MAINE
December 16, 2019, 8:05 A.M. EST
Joann was busy, straightening up. She was a single woman in her mid-sixties. She had been retired for some time. She noticed that her laptop was on. Strange, she thought, because she usually turned it off. As she would say, “Saving power is saving money.”
But she hadn’t had to worry about saving money since she “came into money,” as she liked to put it, a few years ago.
She started to turn the computer off, but she noticed her grandfather’s cross on the desk next to the computer. I must be losing it, she muttered to herself. How did it get there? It was a small gold cross, with seven green stones that seem to glow in the early morning light.
She picked the cross up in her right hand, and her left hand seemed to move on its own. She began scrolling through a list of employment notices for nannies. She stopped on one ad.
“Hmm,” she said with interest. “Temporary position on The Saint, a luxury cruise liner. December cruise to Bermuda. Six days. Departs Boston December 18th. Returns to Boston December 24th. Assist parents with care of two boys, ages 7 and 9. Competitive wage. Must be experienced, mature, and provide references.”
“Why not?” she said out loud. “It will get me out of here for the holidays. I don’t need the money, though.” She continued to talk to herself. “But, what the heck? And I could…” she stopped. “I could do what I feel like I should do.” At least what she’s felt like she should do for the last few weeks since she found the cross in an old jewelry box. She hadn’t worn it in years. But for some reason — she couldn’t remember the reason — she had been going through the jewelry case a few weeks ago and she saw it. From that moment on, she had felt like she should return it to the Episcopal Church in Bermuda where her grandfather had first served as a priest. It puzzled her why she should suddenly feel such a strong desire to do so. I could see the church and some of the island. I’ve always wanted to see Bermuda. But for some reason, she never had.