It was a vacation of firsts. My first time on a plane, my first time out of the US (yes, Canada still counts!), my first time taking a ferry. My husband kept insisting it wasn’t a big deal, that we were just visiting his parents, but I might as well have found the wardrobe to Narnia.
By the time we got to the port to board the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, I’d already taken over a hundred photos.
“That’s just a road sign!” Derek complained teasingly from over my shoulder.
“It’s not! I was taking a picture of the building!”
“Ah, that’s why it’s out of focus and blurry. Got it.”
I grumbled at him and deleted the picture. He laughed and gave me an affectionate squeeze.
“I’m sure there will be a lot more signs for you to photograph,” he said.
The ferry was much bigger than I’d expected. I had thought it’d be a small, flat boat where cars and people would line up under an overhang for the duration of the trip. What we boarded, however, was more like a yacht. Up came my phone again, and I was snapping away while Derek shook his head.
“C’mon, Beth, let’s not hold up the line.”
We followed the stream of people to the seating area and sat as close to the window as possible. The sun sparkled off the water and the skyscrapers in the distance. I imagined I could hear waves lapping at the side of the ferry, but Derek insisted it was just my overexcited imagination.
“How long have we got?” I asked.
“Hour and a half, two hours,” he replied. “You’ll get some nice shots once we start heading out.”
“Can we walk around? I want to explore a bit.”
“Go for it. I’m beat from the flight. I’m going to nap if that’s ok.”
I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and squeezed past him to wander about on my own. I stopped into a little shop with overpriced snacks and coffee and passed what looked like an exclusive lounge for people who wanted to escape the commoners. There was even a noisy game room with arcade machines and a play area for children.
Not exactly the brisk, wind-worn journey I’d anticipated.
Every so often, I’d stop to take another picture, especially when I made it up on deck. The view was phenomenal, like nothing I’d seen back home. I couldn’t believe Derek was treating this so casually! Sure, he’d made the trip dozens of times before, but I doubted that, even if I were in his shoes, I’d ever get bored of it. I made small talk with an older couple from Montreal while we lounged against the railing. It was their anniversary and they were treating themselves to a quiet getaway. We gradually drifted apart and I was off again, now heading back into the cabin in search of interesting nooks and crannies I might have missed.
A stairwell at the stern took me down into the carport. It was dimly lit by a row of overhead lights, and deserted. A little butterfly fluttered into life in my stomach. Was I not supposed to be down there? There hadn’t been a sign telling me to stay out that I’d seen.
Clearly that meant it was ok.
I crept between cars like some kind of prowler. It just felt like that’s what the atmosphere called for. I resisted the nosey urge to peek into car windows and instead focused on seeing what, if anything, else was down there.
I’d almost walked the length of car hold when I became aware of a steady creaking and soft, muffled weeping.
It was coming from the far corner, near where the luggage was kept. Concerned that someone might be hurt, I followed the sound to shelves of suitcases and stowed items. The creaking slowed the closer I got, until it had gone silent altogether. The weeping had stopped abruptly.
“Hello?” I called out nervously. “Are you ok?”
I didn’t get an answer, but the creaking began again. This time, it was quicker, almost agitated. I jumped, my heart beating hard in my chest, and I turned on my phone’s flashlight to shine it around the dark corners of the hold. There was a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye and I quickly aimed the light at it.
A rocking chair, obviously old with its faded wood stain and cracked seat, was tucked almost against the wall. It was going back and forth, squeaking with each movement.
I laughed softly at myself. Here I was, getting all worked up over an antique someone was transporting! The movement of the ferry was just causing it to rock. After settling myself for a moment, I opened up my phone’s camera and got a picture to show Derek once I got back to him.
A brass plaque in the middle of the headrest caught my attention and I stepped closer to read the inscription on it.
For my beloved, Véronique Rosier, the top line said in neat script. Forever yours, Henri
“Aw,” I whispered, holding up my phone for another picture.
Without warning, I was pushed headlong into the chair. My nose cracked painfully against the plaque. Before I could straighten, fingers had curled around my neck from behind and began to squeeze.
I shoved myself away from the rocking chair and the hands fell away for a moment. I had enough time to spin around, my arms held up defensively, but no one was behind me.
I was still alone in the car hold, I was certain of it, even as I was pushed violently into the chair. It groaned under my weight and pitched dangerously backward. Instinctively, I let my phone drop to the floor and grabbed the armrests.
A heavy weight bore down on me, as if someone had pounced on top of me, and I could feel nails digging into my throat again.
“He’s mine,” a voice, a woman’s, hissed. It was tearful and furious all at once. “He was supposed to be mine!”
I clawed at the empty air and then at my neck, desperately trying to pull hands that I couldn’t even see away. The weight on my chest grew heavier and heavier. The grip on my throat tighter and tighter. My vision began to swim and became dotted with bursts of color. Fire swept through my body, a burning need to breathe that overtook my every thought.
“You stole him from me!”
Everything was starting to go dark. Panic and desperation surged through me, but I was pinned against the rocking chair beneath…something. Completely helpless. I tried to scream, but only a weak gargle escaped. I could feel myself fading even as I fought with everything I had.
“He was supposed to be mine,” the voice snarled.
It kept saying it, over and over. It was the last thing I heard as I passed out.
Apparently the ferry had docked in Victoria before Derek realized I was missing. He’d slept the whole way and hadn’t even realized anything was wrong. I was found by a crew member when they came down to the car hold to prepare for disembarkment.
It was hours and hours before anyone was let off the ship. There was an investigation, people were questioned, cops were brought on board. I didn’t know any of this until I woke up much later in a hospital bed in more pain than I’d ever been in my entire life.
I couldn’t speak, it hurt to breathe, and I had bruising and scratch marks all along my neck in the very clear shape of someone’s hands. X-rays revealed a few broken ribs to go along with my damaged esophagus. The doctors said it would be a few days before I was released.
There were no clues pointing to who my attacker had been. When I wrote out in sloppy, uneven letters that there hadn’t been anyone in the hold with me, authorities became convinced I simply hadn’t seen anything.
Derek was beside himself, convinced it was his fault and that he’d let me down. He also didn’t believe me when I pointed to my statement.
Not until the letter arrived the next day.
My head hurt too much to read it myself, so I handed it off to Derek, who took a seat on my bed beside me.
“Beth,” he read aloud. “I must start this letter with an apology. I regret so much that we brought that cursed chair with us. We didn’t think anyone would be alone with it. So few people go to the baggage area during the trip to the island. It was only a couple of hours. I’m so sorry.” He paused and frowned at the letter. “What is this? What chair?”
I just gestured for him to keep going.
“We owe you an explanation. That rocking chair was a wedding gift from my husband sixty years ago. I didn’t know when I married him that there was another girl. A childhood friend who loved him deeply. Monica. When he rejected her for me, she went mad with grief. Shortly after we were married, she broke into our home and attacked me while I sat in that chair. He fought her off and we ran out of the house together, but she stayed behind. She was found in my rocking chair. She’d cut her wrists.”
Derek paused again and scanned the rest of the page even while I tapped him arm for him to continue.
“It just goes on to say that she’d always felt uneasy around the chair after that and there had been increasingly worse incidents when women were left alone with it. It was sentimental to the wife, so they put it in storage after they heard a woman crying one night and she, Véronique, I guess, ended up getting attacked. Just like you did. There were complaints, though, that people swore they heard someone crying in their unit. They were bringing it to the woods near their vacation house in Victoria to destroy it. They didn’t want to do it near their home in case it…unleashed her.”
Derek shook his head. “This is insane. Whoever this woman is, she’s just using what happened to you to feed into her delusions. Chairs aren’t haunted, ghosts aren’t real. What is wrong with people?”
I laid back against my pillow and let him rant without interruption. I knew I wouldn’t be able to convince him otherwise. He’d never believe that I had felt a woman’s hands at my throat, but saw no one. He wouldn’t believe I’d heard the same woman Véronique was writing about as clear as I heard him then.
I didn’t think anyone else would believe that letter, either.
For me, though, it was all the proof I needed.
Forever yours, Henri had inscribed on the rocking chair’s plaque. A message from a loving husband to his new bride.
His was not the only vow written upon that chair, though. Monica had written one as well, in her blood and with her dying breath. A dark promise that had kept her bound to this world and to the objects of her twisted love and deepest hate.
Forever yours, even if you’ll never be mine.