Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Horror on the High Seas: Gambi's Ghost
Today, a ghost story. What could be more fitting for Hallowe'en? I first told this story online over at HoodooQ last April. It is familiar in many forms around southeastern Louisiana, where ghost pirates and buried treasure are a time honored tradition. The story was included in the Depression era collection Gumbo Ya~Ya, edited by Lyle Saxon. In Saxon's version, the island where the treasure is buried is called Isle de Gombi. In this version, the pirate is none other than Vincent Gambi himself.
So sit back, relax, bundle up if need be and allow yourself to slip away to an ancient, Louisiana bayou, where the frogs are chirping, the willow-the-wisps are flitting, and the drown just won't stay dead...
There was a quadroon man named Louis who lived on Bayou Grand Caillou. He was and fisherman. Sometimes he was happy with his trade. Sometimes he was not. Louis heard, from the other men who pulled oysters and mud bugs out of the bayou, that a nearby island was the spot where the Baratarian pirate Gambi had buried a horde of treasure. Now the talk went that Gambi was the most ruthless and treacherous of the pirates who aligned themselves with the famous Jean Laffite. He would slit a man's throat for no reason. It was said that if anyone tried to steal his buried treasure, his ghost would slit that man's throat as well.
Louis was a brave man if, it must be admitted, not very bright. He began to inquire about the pirate's treasure. His friends told him he was crazy. But Louis persisted. Finally one old Cajun told him that the only way to find Gambi's treasure was to go to the little island on a full moon night and look for a patch of moss that glowed silver. That was were the pirate had hidden his horde.
Being brave, if not very bright, Louis waited until the next full moon. Then he packed up his little pirogue with a shovel and canvas and everything he thought he would need to bring that treasure home. He sailed out to the deserted island, which as it turned out was no more than a muddy chenier. There was nothing there but a broken down boat shed, two sad cypress trees and big patches of green moss that looked black in the darkness.
Louis pulled his boat up high onto the broken shells of the island's shore. He looked around, hands on hips, almost sure that old Cajun had tricked him good. Then he saw it. A patch of moss that glowed like silver close to one of those scraggly trees.
He set to his task right away. The chuff and hiss of his spade, the croaking of frogs and his own breathing were the only sounds beside a mournful wind off the Gulf. But then Louis heard another sound, like something being dragged across the shells at the water's edge. He turned and was surprised to see his pirogue down in the water when he was sure he had dragged her high up on land. Throwing down his shovel, Louis marched into the water. He dragged that boat clear up to the other sorry cypress tree, and tied her to it.
Louis stomped back to the hole he had started, grumbling about the wind and the tide. Just as he was putting spade to soil he noticed four ugly, hairy feet with their toes just hanging over the edge of his little ditch. At that moment, Louis felt cold despite the heat. He gulped, although his mouth was dry as winter. Mustering all his dumb bravery, he looked up from his spade.
There stood two grinning, horrible pirates. They were sodden with water and seaweed. Mud bugs crawled through their beards and clothes. Their cutlasses dripped red with rust or blood - Louis did not want to know which. They stared at him with eyes that gleamed cold silver.
Now Louis was a good Catholic and he knew what to do when the Devil jumped up. He fell to his knees, crossed himself, and began to recite the Hail Mary over and over again. After his seventh sincere recitation of the prayer to the Virgin, Louis opened just one eye. Sure enough, those silver-eyed, watery pirated had disappeared and Louis, to his everlasting relief, was still alive.
As Louis' breathing settled down, he heard that awful scraping sound once again. Turning, he saw a third pirate sitting comfortably in his pirogue. This one wore a long dagger, held a fine ivory-handled pistol and sported a long, bristling black mustache. He was also dripping wet, covered with detritus and creatures from the Gulf and wearing high leather boots that marked him as a man in charge.
"Gambi?" Louis ventured.
"At your service," the phantom replied. "And if you do not get in this pathetic dinghy and row for your life, I will shoot you for no good reason." Gambi smiled a wicked smile. One gold tooth gleamed like fire in the moonlight.
Louis didn't need to hear that order twice. Abandoning his tools, he untied his boat, jumped in and began to row. He rowed as hard as he knew how while the pirate sat across from him, grinning and pointing his pistol and Louis' gut.
Once the pirogue was a few leagues out in the bayou, Gambi's ghost put away his ancient pistol. Without another word, he slipped over the side of the boat and disappeared into the black paint water. Louis would later say that he knew for truth the creature was not of this Earth as no bubbles rose to the surface when it sank.
So Louis went straight home and there is wife nearly shot him herself, for he looked so different. His hair had turned white to a strand and he would never smile again. Though he told his story to anyone who would listen as though trying to relieve himself of memory, it wasn't long before Louis went to bed one night and died right there in his sleep. Rumor among the fishermen said that old Louis had joined the phantom pirates on that chenier off Bayou Grand Caillou...
Header: The Pirate's Ghost by Howard Pyle via Wikimedia