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Captain Jay and the East Wind
by Molly Grosvenor

Gale winds scream a familiar song to Captain Jay, a strangely welcoming sound on this gray November afternoon. Hard rain and a growing northwest sea easily convince him to set a long term mooring after refueling at Burton's dock. The safety of South Manitou Bay's natural harbor is a delight to the likes of Captain Jay, who expect the land to always offer protection enough that they may never have to face disaster or to let fear dictate their actions.

It is nearly two decades since the night Captain Jay had first seen the fixed beam of light shine across a vicious Lake Michigan. Though it was his inaugural venture on Lake Michigan, he had often heard stories of Nautical Works of Traverse City: Great Lakes information, artwork and booksthis passage from other seamen. The light's invitation had come none to soon for his heavily loaded ship, wet fuel wood, and crew wearing white faces and eyes of disbelief. Families held each other, desperate prayers in a language Captain Jay did not understand. He had wondered if all control was lost to a much greater force, when the light appeared as though by miracle of his own pleas to the sea.

Their passage through the canal had been a long awaited victory for many of the immigrants, who equated their move to the new America with freedom and endless land. Great Lakes cities meant work, progress, a new beginning. Through the crossing, many had lost friends and family to a sweeping and unknown illness, burying them and their fears in an unknown sea. They'd come to Captain Jay's steam vessel from Scandinavia and a few from Buffalo. Come with strong hearts and light loads. They risked all that they were, and knew not what they might become.

Captain Jay stands at the end of the pier chewing on the end of his unlit pipe, looking out at his safely anchored ship. Some of the crew have already made their way to the Centerboard Saloon, knowing the routine of a stranded night on the island. He'd wait with the boat, having not set foot on the land in the dark for many years. Tomorrow they would load wood if the wind stayed right. Something about the night gives him the chills. Maybe it is the memories, or most likely just the cold wind he figures. He taps the pipe on a piling thinking of the woman and the same confusing story that is often in his mind. She haunts him every year when the leaves began to drop and the trees reached their skinny fingers to the low sky.

It was in this season, it was that first night on the island, that they had broken the cold earth with shovels. The wind had blown like a son of a gun for two days and nights, and on the third switched to the East. An east wind sends the sea right into Manitou's bay, and can make any captain lose his bearings.

He had noticed her standing in the open deck wrapped in a sheep wool blanket and a long black dress, her pale white skin unchanging in the autumn sun's light. She stood there often since they'd lowered her husband into Erie. They were on their way to Chicago, the husband had told him, until the illness had taken his body in a few days time. Bass Lake Cottages--Get away from it all!She too had begun to show the dark circles under her eyes and coughed herself to sleep along with other stricken passengers. Captain Jay wished like magic that he could become a doctor instead of a sailor. Between the Straits and Manitou they had lost twenty-some passengers, including men from his crew. They had decided to wait for land to bury and the bodies rested in the box near the life boat. The woman had looked as though she was inviting Death to take her. When the waves began to crash over the bow, one of the crew took her below.

Captain Jay sits in the little shack at the end of the pier and listens to the wind howl and the sounds of spirits crying. With the east wind threatening their mooring and a long sail ahead of them, the crew and he had begun rowing the bodies to shore just as the sun was setting. The pit had taken them all day to dig and Captain Jay's fingers bled and were wrapped in a torn up old shirt. He was exhausted, but had not been able to sleep peacefully in many nights. He wondered then if he ever would.

When the last body had been tossed into the pit, the survivors bowed their heads for a minute and then began to quickly replace the earth. Captain Jay noticed the wool blanket of the woman and stopped shoveling to look to the sky. He had never even spoke to her, but his heart went out to her like no other. The wind continued to build until waves started to wash over the dock. Logging company owner and old time islander Burton warned Captain Jay that "it was best he get out of here before he run his vessel aground."

Abandoning the half buried pit of bodies, they fought the waves back to the ship.

While pulling the anchor he had seen a person standing on the shore. He chose to not believe his eyes as they cast off and the woman with her black dress walked into the water and disappeared. The other men saw her too, but they never spoke of it, not even to this day. When the leaves begin to fall and the autumn winds blow like they do tonight, Captain Jay thinks of her. The stranded nights on the island he knows when the wind will be shifting east, for he hears a moaning.

The woman warns him it is time to go.

Ghost Stories Index

Links From This Article
The Leelanau Children's Center
[where Molly works!]
Too Big For Boxes
by Molly Grosvenor

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