Friday, February 20, 2015

Pirates Are A Nefarious Lot.

Chapter One

I was on the last leg of an ocean exploration. I had paid a pretty penny to find a captain who would let a girl on his fishing boat (bad luck and all that nonsense.) Captain Russell (an Englishman) took a well-travelled fishing route off the Somali coastline. I had been photographing him, the crew, and anything with rust. This trip was going to be my money-maker, and the captain eagerly pointed out views he thought would be a good picture. Although I did get some helpful fishing shots from Russell, he seemed to be posing in all of them. He had no idea I could still get amazing shots by pretending to be pointing at him, all the while taking the real picture I wanted instead.

I was exhausted. I insisted on using the winch to help pull nets up, learning how to gut huge fish with even bigger teeth. I swabbed the deck. Actually, nobody else seemed eager to clean blood and guts off the floor.  And I cooked.  A lot! No matter what you read, cooks on working ships are missing fingers, or haven't bathed for months, and their hands were blood-caked and flaking. I need to know I am eating from an immaculate kitchen up to food safety standards. So I took the job. What did I cook? Fish. I did make calamari once, but it was horrible...very rubbery. Captain Russell and the crew liked it very much. Most often, though, I cooked fish recipes.

This day, the ocean was remarkably calm. The men took breaks together when there were no fish to be found. Captain said there would be schools of fish later in the day. The crew relaxed, rolled cigarettes, and passed them around, muttering complaints about the captain, missing their wives, and I thought I heard one say something about bad cooking.

I stood at the edge of the boat, on a stool, leaning over the rail to take close-ups of the barnacle colonies on Captain Russell's boat. I had my Canon long lens on, and as I scanned the horizon, I saw the ship. It was far in the distance. I called out to the captain, and pointed. He picked up his binoculars, and looked where I was pointing. He immediately shouted out orders to the crew. "A pirate ship, coming fast. Get yourselves ready." The crew jumped up immediately, as they had never heard of such a thing, except in story books at school. "There ain't no pirates nowadays, captain," one crew member yelled. 

The ship was almost upon us. Captain Russell had one advantage, and that was the ability to maneuver quickly, as his boat was very small. He took one evasive counter-measure. I was thrown across the deck, and my forehead hit a barrel of beer, which was secured tightly with lots of square knots. I grabbed onto its ropes. I felt my survival instincts kick in immediately.

It was too late. The pirate ship was in perfect position, and cannons were at the ready. Our situation appeared to be quite grim. I cautiously used my long lens to observe the attackers. I counted twenty, all holding weapons (knives, guns, and very rusty swords.)

Captain Russell showed his true colors, when he realized the horrific danger we were all in. He handed his First Mate a crisp white flag, and quickly started hacking at the ropes holding the life boat. When the flag was raised, a cannon blew a hole right through it. Shreds of white fabric floated in the air around us. I guess that was our shot across the bow. Cannons were going off everywhere, guns were shredding the deck. Our small boat began listing. I knew it would be moments before we sank.

Russell , the First Mate,  and the four crewmen threw the life boat over the side. They jumped ship. I was to face the pirates alone.

The pirates came aboard. I curled up small, hoping to be undetected. It was a hopeless situation. A pirate snatched me right up, and bashed my head with the butt of his gun.

When I came to, I was on the pirates' ship. I tried not to move,  and carefully squinted my eyes open a crack. I assessed the crew members, and I had miscounted before. There were twenty-five, all armed to the teeth. Actually they had more weapons than teeth. Everyone knows pirates never brush their teeth. The pirates' teeth were beyond repair. Snaggle Tooth, Vampire Boy, and Rotten Mouth were just a few nicknames I used to identify them.

One pirate in particular stood out from the others. He was beyond infuriated, using salty language his parrot refused to repeat. (I tried to pick up a few words for later use, but forgot them due to stress.) I strained to hear the verbal bashing he was giving to his crew. After a minute, I realized he was ranting about his crew's failure to find anything of value on the overtaken boat that was sinking surprisingly fast. There were several wooden crates bobbing in the waves. When the boxes were hauled up and opened, they were filled with root vegetables: beets, rutabagas, and turnips.

The crew backed away from their captain. He had fire in his eyes. His mouth was clenched, partly open, his teeth were grinding, and it sounded as if he were growling. I stood up, using stealth techniques I taught myself as a child. One skinny, odorous pirate dropped his sword to the deck, not even knowing he had done so. I ran up and snatched it up. I loved it immediately. It was the perfect swashbuckler's weapon, very light, a thin, albeit rusty, blade, perfectly balanced, and sharp enough to run the captain through. What was there not to like?

The poor pirate carefully backed up, his head down, hoping to get away from his captain, who was out for blood. He knew the captain could kill a crew member on a whim. Unfortunately, I was whipping my sword, cutting through the air, and and practicing a few jabs I knew. I swear upon all things holy what happened next was not my fault. The smelly pirate, whom I had just nicknamed Odor Eater, moved backward right into the sword's path. I am sure you can imagine the consequences when he screamed, dropped to the deck, and bled out slowly from a gut wound. He was in a pool of his own black blood, (Oh! You didn't know all pirates have black blood because the blood pumped through their very evil hearts? True fact! Google it!)

The captain became still. He scrutinized each pirate, reading their visage. The pirates moved to make a path for him so he could see what I had done to Odor Eater for himself. He looked down at the dead pirate. Then he slowly lifted his head, and I glared at him. He wanted to give me the stink-eye, but I gave him my death ray eye stare. (My kids know what that looks like...) 

"I knew you was gonna be trouble as soon as we boarded that boat." I retorted, "Yeh? Let's see now. The boat is gone, thanks to your incompetent leadership. You will be eating cabbages for month. Oh, and this dead deckhand needs to be tossed overboard, or he will leave a stench even you can't imagine."

The tip of a sword was under my chin, with my throat exposed. I had antagonized him beyond the point of no return. With nothing to lose, I swiftly spun around, and my sword was swinging, as I began to fight.

A few of the pirates were too slow to get out of the way. One deckhand, sword in hand, felt nothing when I accidentally sliced off his leg at the knee as I ducked swords meant for me. From that point, I only recall snippets of what occurred. The injured pirate scrambled like a crab to his missing limb. No one came to his aid because, as I am sure you are aware, no pirate is altruistic.  He crawled into a corner, clutching his limb, and was sorry he had taken his legs for granted before. He clutched the cut-off leg to his chest, as if it were a precious jewel. He began screaming, "Captain! Captain! Me leg. Me Leg!"

The captain was now in a blind fury. He moved over to the poor pirate, "What are you blithering about, you baby. Give me that dead leg. Ain't a one of us here can put it back on." He leaned over, and pried the leg from the man's tight grip. He grabbed it as if it were a frisbee,  and flung it far out into the ocean. (I was actually impressed.) The captain slowly, very intentionally, turned around, his sword slightly loose in his hand.

"Ya get one chance to live, girly. Get down on that deck and clean up this blood. It is gonna stain me ship."

I knew pirates are never found to be trustworthy. He would kill me anyway.  So I did what was necessary. I used a few salty words of my own (some of which I had learned in my foreign language classes in high school.) I may have said something about his mom. I went a little too far. I confess my ethics are predicated on the situation at hand.

The captain came out swinging, but so did I. I went for his throat. I missed, and cut off the top of his hat, and maybe a bit of hair. I watched the wind snatch up that hat, and in less than a second I felt a very sharp point on my chest, right over my heart.

He backed me up, and applied more pressure with his sword. "I ain't done this in a good, long while," he said in a gravelly, intense voice. I knew then there was no point in fighting. He said, "Turn around. Drop the sword (which disappointed me a bit because I liked it.) "Get up on that there gang plank, and start walking', missy."

The other pirates looked stunned. Then they rushed to the rail and watched as the captain, his sword still pressed precisely over my heart. He had complete control. His sword was pushing me backward. He asked, "You ain't afraid of no sharks, is you?" I said, "Not really. They are very important to the entire ocean ecosystem." I was going to give him lots more facts about sharks but his sword was pushing even harder.

It seemed like a long march to the end of the gang plank. Suddenly, I knew I had the advantage.  As he drew closer and closer, I insulted him intentionally (something about dead brain cells possibly.) I stood on the end of the plank, and carefully tested it for bounce. The captain was mesmerized by testing. On my third bounce, I was high in the sky, setting my body in perfect position for the back dive (my favorite, yet scariest dive I can do.) On the way back down, as I corrected the arch in my spine, my neck was briefly exposed. Humiliated in front of his crew compelled him to grip his sword, and swing. He sliced my neck right open.

I was instantly petrified when I hit the water. I had blood gushing from the wound; blood, ocean, and sharks are not the best words you want to hear together.  I calmed my fear. If I wanted to stay alive, I needed to be in my special zone I had relied on many times before.