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In the summer before 8th grade, I signed up for the National Youth Leadership Conference Alumni trip. I don’t know if any of you people were ever part of NYLC - but it was basically an invitational program that accepted “gifted” middle school students after they had been nominated by their teachers. You go for a week in the summer - first year to DC, second year to Boston, and you do a whole bunch of leadership exercises and go on some field trips with kids from all over the US. Looking back, I realize that it was really a complete waste of a few thousand dollars - but at least I got some experiences out of it.
Including this one.
So yeah, back to the story - it was the summer of ‘08, and I was off to Boston for the Alumni trip. I remember literally nothing about the first six days, but I vividly remember our last night, which was to be spent aboard a decommissioned US Navy Battleship docked in Boston Harbor. I know, it sounded pretty awesome, especially to a group of soon-to-be 8th graders who had just spent a week bullshitting answers to questions like “what does leadership mean to you?”.
After we dropped off all of our overnight luggage and sleeping bags in the sleeping quarters (which were to be the actual cots and bunks that the sailors used to sleep on), we were taken for a brief tour of the ship and given a nice big dinner. We were then free to explore.
Now, being that we were all 12 and 13 year olds with incredibly “gifted” imaginations, rumors naturally started to circulate that the battleship was haunted by the ghosts of some sailors that had either fallen overboard or been killed in the line of duty. Stories about their deaths were fabricated on the spot and started spreading like wildfire - each one different, and each one successively growing increasingly unbelievable.
But man, was it all fun.
Soon enough, kids began splitting off into groups to go explore the ship and search for ghosts. I know, I know, it sounds stupid, right? Come on, we were kids.
Me and the small band of friends I had made during the week were some of the first to start searching. We even went so far as to ask the sailors that stayed aboard the ship to work maintenance if they knew of any leads. They all looked at us as if they were confused as to why we had ever gotten into a “young leaders conference” in the first place.
Eventually, our search took us deep down into the bowels of the battleship to a large, circular room with empty warheads lining the perimeter that could only be reached by a single ladder. Through the center of the room rose a large metal pillar with old dead machines and consoles. A catwalk circled the entire chamber, but there was a gap in between the catwalk floor and the shelf that held the warheads. We couldn’t see how far down the gap went, it was too dark.
Anyways, as I carefully and quietly hopped off the ladder and onto the catwalk before my timid friends behind me, I saw something. On the other side of the circle, an orb was suspended in midair - floating from the right side of the room towards the pillar in the center. It was no bigger than a baseball, and blacker than the blackest night sky, but surrounded by a thin, white, wispy aura or veil or - something. What was even stranger was that it was flickering, almost like a glitch on a computer screen.
As I stared at it, the very air around me seemed to change, Everything was dead still, but the air felt charged, like, electrically. My skin began to tingle and the hairs on my arm were as stiff and still as boards, my ears were buzzing, buzzing, buzzing -
And then the orb vanished. Right behind the pillar in the center of the room, just like that, it was gone.
I turned and bolted, never looking back, my friends thought I had lost it, or that I was just being a pussy, and they let me have it for the rest of the night. I ignored them. I know what I saw.
That night, I couldn’t sleep in my cot. I don’t know if I was spooked, or disturbed, or just plain uncomfortable, but sleep did not find me for many hours.
And then, when all was quiet at some dead hour of the night, I felt it again. The same static feeling in the air, like a current of electricity was running through every molecule around me.
I jolted to an upright sitting position in my cot to try and shake the feeling, and when I looked over in the corner, I saw someone standing there.
At first, I thought it was another one of the kids in the program who was also having trouble falling asleep - but then I realized that this boy was young. Younger, I mean - around 4 or 5 by the look of him.
Then he moved.
He stepped forward out of the shadowy corner and stared me dead in the face with cold, hollow eyes. His own face was expressionless. Then slowly, ever so slowly, it began to change. His eyebrows tilted, his mouth twisted into a frown, his pale, empty eyes began to glow a bright demonic red.
And suddenly, the whole world went mad.
The battleship lurched as if it had just been struck by an enormous wave. Cots and suitcases went flying towards the walls, the girders and rivets of the ship were screeching and bursting with sharp metallic wails, and the small boy zoomed over to me, and hovered right in front of my face.
In the loudest voice I have ever heard, he screamed, “THEYYYY LETTT MEEE DIEEEEE!!!!!”
I was locked in a frozen panic, heart racing, lungs pumping, eyes struck wide open in fear - and then I woke up.
I shot upright, panting heavily, drenched to the bone in cold, clammy sweat. A dream, I thought, only a dream. Relief washed over me like a warm and welcoming breeze, and I fell back asleep.
I went home the next day, and never really thought much about the whole incident for months. I even convinced myself that I had just imagined that orb in the room with the warheads. Until, of course, I happened across a decades-old news article while doing research on the very same battleship for a social studies project.
The article was about the death of a young boy, who had tragically fallen overboard into the harbor whilst visiting the ship with his parents. No one had been watching him when he fell, the article said, and therefore help wasn’t able to reach him in time. There was a picture of the kid as well. When I saw that photograph, my heart stopped. I don’t think I need to tell you that it showed the same small boy I had seen in the sleeping quarters that night.
Yet even after reading the article and learning the circumstances of his unfortunate death, I couldn’t help but think about what he had shouted at me in my dream.
“They let me die.”