Sit a while and read the account
Of my fall from grace and how I climbed out
Of the hole in the ground into which my life fell
And the stroke of good fortune that saved me from Hell
I’m going to tell you, right after this rhyme
Of a lonely, old man's tall tales of a time
When his bones weren't so brittle nor muscles so weak
When the old man was younger, not nearly so meek
Of wars and of pirates, of battling clans
Of islands deserted and dastardly plans
That all needed thwarting, and thwart them he had
When the lonely old man was a strapping, young lad
Now, read on my new friend, I need to convey
The events that led me to that place and that day
When first I met a man with white hair
A man that wasn't really there
“Those two that were sat here before, they’ve left something.” The old man held aloft the little, blue carrier bag that the last customers I’d had that day had forgotten to take with them when they left.
“What’s in it?” I asked.
The old man rummaged around the contents.
“Some ice cream. I’ll put it in the freezer in case they come back for it.” The old man walked behind the counter and through the colourful curtain of ribbons into the kitchen.
I heard the old man open and close the freezer door, then the sound of him filling the big, steel sink with hot water ready to wash the last of the pans I’d left on the worktop.
“Before I forget, I’ve put the money for that loaf you gave me yesterday in the till, thanks for that.”
“No problem, any time.”
“I used to sell ice cream, you know.” He shouted above the noise of the gushing tap.
“Really? What tune did your van play?”
“Van, ha, nothing so grand. It was in the late seventies, in France.. A little place called St Tropez. You ever been?”
“Anyway,” he interrupted, “as I was saying…”
I smiled. This happened a lot, either the old man’s hearing was suffering the effects of age or he was very ignorant. I chose to believe the former.
“I’d been backpacking in Europe for a few months and I’d paused my journey for a while when I’d reached St. Tropez. Lovely place, have you ever been?”
“So, I was a little short of funds and happened upon an African chap, lovely bloke, can’t remember his name now. Anyway, he would sell you a tray full of ice cream at a reasonable price and you could wander along the beach selling them on to the rich holidaymakers for a profit, and they sold fast. Like hot cakes.” He laughed. “Hot cakes, I’ve never understood that saying, have you ever bought a hot cake? I haven’t.”
“No,” I laughed, “I don’t think…”
“So, after a few weeks work I’d saved a tidy sum, more than enough to continue my journey.” The old man rejoined me having piled the pans in the sink to soak while he mopped the floor.
Here we go again, I thought. Every night the old man would take a topic and twist it in the most convoluted way to shoehorn in another tall tale.
“I had to get the ferry over to St Raphael but, on the day I was leaving, there was a fire in shop. The shop was closed but there was a lady and small child in the flat above so, by the time I’d rescued them both, I’d missed my crossing.”
The old man pulled out a stool, placed his foot on it and re-tied his lace.
“There was another crossing later that evening, so I walked out onto the sea wall and climbed down onto the rocks on the Mediterranean side, just near the mouth of the bay, listening to my radio and sunbathing...”
The little, yellow motor launch killed it’s engine as it approached the young man on the rocks.
“Hey, you speak English?” The pilot of the craft called out in a Canadian accent.
“Yes.” The young man looked up from tying his laces, shielding his eyes from the setting sun as he addressed the man in the boat.
“You looking for work?”
The young man wasn’t looking for work, the young man had a satchel full of money and biscuits and needed no more. But the young man had a rule, “never give no for an answer”. Saying yes had brought him this far. He had no real itinerary, he just muddled along, doing as much as he could to fill his days with adventure whenever possible. Adventure only ever comes if you take a chance.
“Yeah, okay, what’s the job?”
“Be here, tomorrow at six a.m., I’ll pick you up.”
So the young man left the rocks and went to find a bench to sleep on. He tucked his satchel and rucksack beneath it, wrapped himself in the army parker that doubled as both his coat and sleeping bag, drank a litre of water and drifted off.
At five thirty, as the sun was beginning to rise, the litre of water worked it’s magic. The young man was awoken by the urgent pressure on his bladder, his own internal alarm clock.
Once he’d relieved himself he set off, munching on a packet of biscuits as he made his way down the mountain and through the town, leaping over the wall of the bay and landing on the rocks just as the little boat with the Canadian in it arrived.
The job was an easy job. It paid relatively well, not as well paid as selling ice creams to rich people, but a fair days pay and lunch was to be provided. All he had to do was climb, and the young man loved to climb.
The young man clung to the top of the mast of the antique clipper, at anchor a mile out to sea, wiping the salt left behind by the sea spray off the timbers with a chamois leather. He whistled as he worked, the mid-morning sun already hot on his shoulders and the sound of the waves and the gulls in his ears. The Canadian called up to him.
“Hey, I need to go ashore, I’ll be an hour or two, okay?”
“What about my dinner?” The young man wasn’t happy at the prospect of missing out on his food.
“That’s what I’m going ashore for, there’s no food onboard. I‘ll be back by one o’clock at the very latest, you just keep wiping, eh?”
The young man shrugged and returned to his toils as the Canadian putt-putted away.
“What, he just left you alone on a ship in the ocean?”
“Yes. I’d never even been to sea before. Not properly. I’d crossed the channel, taken a few ferries here and there, but proper sea? Never.”
I shook my head and smiled. The old man’s tall tales were entertaining, but always required a good pinch of salt.
“Now, as I was saying…”
The young man cleaned the mast as he slowly worked his way down to the creaking deck below.
The sun was high in the clear, blue sky above. It was midday and the curious, young man had plenty of time to have a little look around before the Canadian chap returned.
He’d never been on a boat like this before. An antique with two tall masts and a big, polished wheel. Brass fittings and fixings reflected the bright sunlight, the rocking motion of the vessel making them appear to twinkle and fade. The hard, wooden planks that made up the deck felt solid beneath his feet. They were well weathered, with patchy repair work here and there that was itself beginning to show signs of great age.
The taut ropes of the rigging and the timbers of the hull creaked and moaned as the ocean moved beneath them. The young man headed down the little, covered staircase that led below decks.
A gloomy interior, still as highly polished as the timbers above but with a distinct lack of sunlight, dust motes dancing in the air, illuminated wherever the light did manage to break through and all as quiet as the grave.
The young man was alone, he knew no one else was aboard, but still he called out as he crept deeper inside.
“Hello? Helloooo? Hello? Anybody there?”
Silence. Safe to snoop around. The young man headed to the galley in search of biscuits.
A look of bewilderment crossed the young man’s face as he stepped into the galley. Food. Everywhere. Canned foods, fruits and bread were visible on the shelves and, when he investigated further, the young man found the cupboards to be brimming with jars of pickles and jams, cheeses and cured meats, biscuits and…
Biscuits. The young man grinned as he helped himself to a couple of packets and then returned to the sunshine above. He sat, leaning against a mast and stripped to the waist, munching away for minutes before it dawned on him.
All that food. The Canadian had lied to him. Why? Should he be worried? Maybe it was just a little, white lie. Maybe the Canadian’s business was of a sensitive nature, purely innocent.
The young man had already led a life filled with danger and intrigue. He had learnt, over many years and through many adventures, to always be wary of the unknown. Wary, but willing to explore.
Beside the big, polished wheel hung a telescope on a leather strap. The young man placed it to his eye and looked towards shore. Nothing. Just horizon. No harbour walls, no other ships, not even a sea gull now. He dashed to the front of the ship and looked over the side.
An anchor. A big, brass anchor on a thick, strong chain, right there, inches below his startled face and performing no duty whatsoever. The boat was adrift and, the young man realised, had been for hours.
This was the point where you or I might panic.
“Yesssss!” The young man exclaimed, a ridiculously wide grin plastered across his face.
“So you were just floating on the ocean? Some stranger had set you adrift with a galley full of food on a boat that, from the sounds of it, must’ve been worth a small fortune?”
“That’s the long and short of it, yes.”
“But why? Why would anyone do something like that?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” The old man paused a second, smiling and lost in a memory. He shook his head, “No idea at all. It was a gift horse, I suppose. You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“You’re saying he basically GAVE you a boat? People don’t give things like that away.”
“Of course they do”, the old man looked at me and narrowed his eyes. “Sometimes people give things away. And when they do, accept the things and be grateful. I mean, if you were to find something of value, and you had reason to believe it had been left there for you in, say, the woods, wouldn’t you take it and keep it?”
I looked at my feet as I remembered the suitcase full of money that had saved me.
“I suppose so.”
Sailing a ship requires a good deal of skill. The young man possessed many skills, but captaining an ocean going vessel wasn’t one of them.
Not that it mattered. With no crew, no matter how skilled a Captain was at the helm, it would be impossible. The ship was drifting on the current and where it went no one could know.
All day if floated, aimlessly meandering it’s creaking journey across the vast expanse of water until, shortly before midnight, the young man spied an island. Of sorts.
Crescent shaped, it was in fact a volcano that had, many centuries earlier, erupted for the final time. Spewing molten rock high into the air and with a plume of smoke that could be seen for hundreds of kilometres it really had been something spectacular. The eruption had eventually destroyed the south side of the crater, allowing the cool, Mediterranean waters to rush in and calm the flow of the lava and create a huge, grey cloud of dust and steam that settled slowly over the decades.
The event had destroyed much of the peak that had peeked from beneath the waves leaving behind nothing but an enormous, crescent shaped rock rising from the waters. The water within the crescent was warmed from the heat of the earth below. Occasionally, a migrating bird would land there to take a break and would leave behind seeds and grubs that it had picked up elsewhere on it’s feet. The seeds and grubs grew and reproduced until, centuries later, the rocky outcrop was a lush, green paradise. Great trees towered above, mosses covered the stony ground, butterflies, moths and birds fluttered and flapped in the air. Fish basked in the warm waters, dolphins were frequent visitors, it was a place of great beauty and, throughout it’s entire history and evolution, had never been seen by a single pair of human eyes. Until now.
“Hang on, how can you know no one had seen it before ?”
“Have you ever met anyone else that’s visited a crescent shaped, centrally heated, moss covered island in the Mediterranean?”
“There we are then. Now…”
The young man dived from the deck into the clear, warm water as the antique clipper neared the shore. He swam to the small, white beach at the western end of the island and lay on the hot, fine sand staring up at the night sky as the hull of the boat was torn open on the rocks that lay hidden just beneath the waves, the contents of the interior spilling out into the bay.
The moon was big and bright and it’s light gave the beach, and the young man lay upon it, a ghostly air. The young man lay staring up at the satellite’s brilliant beauty.
“Goodnght, I love you.” He smiled, closed his eyes and drifted off.
The old man paused, staring at his satchel hanging on the hook by the colourful curtain, and smiled as he uttered those words.
“You love the moon?”
“No. Not the moon.”
The birds of the forest sat silently staring at the young man as he explored the island. The insects carried on with their toils, dashing hither and thither pollinating plants, ploughing the earth and being eaten by birds, ignoring him as he wandered by, aimlessly and with a stupid grin on his face.
The young man had never been shipwrecked before, but he had spent a lot of time lost in dangerous and remote places. He knew what he needed to do.
Water first. If you yourself are ever fortunate enough to be stranded on a desert island you must make this your first priority. Shelter is also important, but nothing’s more important than water.
The young man was making his way to higher ground to get a view of his surroundings. It was still very early, the sun had joined the moon in the sky as the moon itself began to fade from silver to grey as it made it’s lazy way toward the horizon.
From the rocky peak upon which he found himself after an hour or two walking the young man had an almost unbroken, three hundred and sixty degree view of the island. Only one peak was higher than this one, all the way across the volcanically warmed bay where the dolphins played, at the easternmost tip of the rocky crescent.
Tumbling down the side of this eastern peak, glistening and twinkling in the sun, a silvery ribbon wound it’s way to the sea below. A river, broken by several waterfalls, delivering it’s clean, clear and, most importantly, drinkable water from deep beneath the earth.
The journey across the island was only a short distance as the crow flies, but the thick forest, sheer drops and steep inclines would make it a long and arduous, not to mention perilous, trek. The young man took a short cut.
The waters within the crescent were calm and warm. The young man, having collected his satchel from the articles washed up on the shore, swam slowly but surely toward the eastern peak. He used a plastic barrel, more flotsam from the wreckage of the antique clipper, as a float to ease his crossing, holding it below his chest as he propelled himself through the gentle waves with his feet.
Once safely across the young man sought out the base of the final waterfall and made his way to where it crashed into the rocks, now worn smooth by the relentless cascade, and into the sea.
He hadn’t had a drink since the previous evening and was now very thirsty, but the young man knew not to gulp down the water. He stood, catching the spray from the edge of the torrent, in his open mouth, eyes closed and smiling. He began to think about shelter.
But first, a shower.
From within the powerful curtain of water the young man watched as the coning tower of a bizarrely colourful submarine broke through the surface of the warm, calm bay. The young man squinted, trying to see more clearly.
Biscuit tin lids?
The coning tower and the visible part of the hull were made up of biscuit tin lids, hammered into shape and riveted together to form an airtight skin. The periscope that protruded from the tower appeared to be made of a pair of old binoculars, leather strap still attached, connected to a plastic waste water pipe with electrical tape. A vessel so slapdash it should have sunk like a brick rather than negotiate the seas. The young man smiled.
On the floor of the coning tower the wheel that locked the hatch shut began to turn slowly and then spin quickly before being pushed open from within, allowing the captain, the only occupant, to clamber out.
“Ahoy.” He bellowed, “Helloooooo.”
The young man stepped from beneath the power-shower of a waterfall, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“My, my, my,” He called out, catching the captains attention, “Fancy seeing you here.”
“You knew him?” I shook my head and laughed. “Shipwrecked for a day and a friend shows up in a submersible biscuit barrel? Really?”
“Yes. It’s a small world, isn’t it?”
“Oh, come on. You said no one had set eyes on it before you, and then someone else discovers it the very next day?
The old man narrowed his eyes. “You think I’m making this stuff up?”
“No, no, of course not, it’s just a little, erm, incredible.”
“Have you ever caught a bus?”
“What? Well, yes, of course I have.”
“Have you ever waited ages for one and then three turn up at once?”
“Actually yes, I have.”
“What are the chances? Pretty slim I bet, but still it happens. To you, to me, to all of us. What are the chances of something so unlikely happening to so many people so often?”
“I would imagine pretty slim.”
“But still it happens. Now, where was I?…
The captain used a rubber hose that was connected to the submarine’s ballast tanks to inflate a large, inflatable dinghy in the shape of a smiling crocodile, then climbed in and rowed ashore.
The old friends embraced on the beach, laughing.
“So good to see you, my friend.” The captain said.
“And you, Harris, and you. How are you? What are you doing here?”
“All in good time, my friend, but first of all,” Harris stepped away from his old friend, “Put some blummin’ clothes on.”
The old man was rummaging through his satchel. We’d almost finished cleaning the café, ready for the following day’s service. It was now traditional that, at this point, we paused for a cup of tea and a biscuit or two. The old man brought his own biscuits, those pink wafer things that he was so keen on, and I passed through the colourful curtain into the kitchen, filling and switching on the kettle. The noise of the water beginning to boil drowned out the voice of the old man. No matter really, I was sure I‘d not miss anything particularly interesting, I threw teabags into two mugs.
“A kettle with the plug cut off and a broken lid?”
“Yes,” Harris replied, “a red one. Have you seen it?”
The young man shook his head, not in response but in confusion.
“You’ve come half way around the world in a homemade submarine to find a broken kettle? Why?”
“It’s hardly half way around the world, don’t exaggerate. And the submarine, that was just something I had hanging around, it could just as easily have been an aluminium airship.”
“Yes, but, still, for a broken kettle?” The young man was still shaking his head. “Why didn’t you just buy a kettle back home and break that one.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Fair enough. No, I haven’t seen it, I’ve not had much chance to look around yet.”
“Ah well, it was a long shot.”
“Why do you need it?”
“We made a lot of mess, you know, back then,” The young man nodded in response, “Ripples in the timeline and all that. I need the kettle to balance things out.”
“Well, we’d better get started then.”
The young man and Harris searched the flotsam on the beach for the kettle. The island wasn’t very big and the beach was very small, so it didn’t take them long to be disappointed.
“How did you know I was here?” The young man asked as the pair slumped into the sand, gazing out past the biscuit tin submarine at the horizon.
“Oh, I didn’t. This place isn’t on any charts so when I spotted it I though “why not? It’s as good a place as any? You being here is just a happy coincidence”
On the horizon appeared a tiny, black shape. A ship, heading towards the island. The young man stood up. “Look.”
Harris stood by the young man’s side. “Oh yes, I forgot about them.”
“Forgot about who?”
“Them,” He pointed to the ship in the distance, “I think they may want to talk to me.”
“Who are they? And why are they chasing you?”
“They’re, well, I suppose you could say they’re pirates.”
“What do you mean, “you could say”? Are they pirates or not?”
“They’re pirates, okay, proper pirates.”
“And they want to talk to you?”
“Talk, yes, maybe. Kill me, possibly. Who knows with pirates? They’re a moody bunch, they might even want to kill you. Sorry about all this.”
“Sorry? SORRY? Are you kidding?” The young man looked at Harris, grinning a huge grin, “This island’s very pretty and all that, but pirates, now that’ll be fun.”
.I took a seat at the little table in the window, facing the old man who was carefully nibbling the edges of a pink wafer.
“You know, sometimes I think about the things I’ve done, the sights I’ve seen, the places I’ve visited and do you know what I think?”
“No, what do you think?” I asked.
“I think that I wish I’d paid more attention to the pretty stuff.”
The young man span the wheel, locking the hatch in place, as Harris began to crank up the engine on the submarine. The pirates ship was still a good distance off the coast, but would surely have spotted the garish vessel floating at anchor in the bay of the extinct volcano.
Harris pulled at levers, twisted knobs and tapped the glass lenses that covered the gauges on the control panel. A black and white, portable television began to slowly reveal the view from the periscope, blurry and indistinct initially, but becoming clearer. It sat on the desk into which the control panel was set and slid from side to side as Harris began to pilot his craft.
The tin lid submarine began to dive as it accelerated away from the volcano, banking to the port side and heading east. The submarine could move faster on the surface of the sea but, with still a good distance between it and the pirate ship, Harris was sure they’d lose the murderous crew of the old ship bearing down on them from the south.
Harris turned the periscope to provide a rear view of the surface of the Mediterranean.
“Ronnie sends her love, by the way.”
“How did she know you’d see me?”
“Oh, she didn’t, she always says it, just in case.”
The television screen showed an image of the prow of the pirate ship, dark timbers painted in pitch, billowing white sails, a baying mob of cutthroats on the deck and a black flag with a white skull and cross bones, the “Jolly Roger“, fluttering from the top of the highest mast.
“Blummin’ ’eck,” The young man exclaimed, “ It’s right behind us.”
“They’re binoculars, you fool.” Harris began to adjust the focus on the periscope with a dial on the desk. “Oh.”
“”Oh”? “Oh” what?”
“Sorry, my mistake, they really are right behind us. Harris pulled a lever to retract the periscope and killed the engines. “Shhh.”
“A pirate ship? An old fashioned one? With canons and things?”
“As true as I’m sitting here.” The old man replied. I laughed, but didn’t mention that he wasn’t sitting but was taking our now empty cups through to the kitchen. I began to fiddle with my phone as he continued.
The interior of the tin lid submarine was deathly silent. The young man and Harris held their breath, eyes wide and waiting.
The little submarine bobbed in the water as the huge, ancient and mysterious ship passed overhead, the sound of it’s creaking timbers deep and threatening to the young friends. Once the movement of the vessel settled Harris pushed the lever that he’d previously pulled and sent the periscope back up. The ship was in front of the submarine now and was making no attempt to turn.
“We’ve lost them.”
“Well that was an anti-climax.” The young man seemed genuinely disappointed. “So, what’s the story? I’m no maritime historian but I’m pretty sure that, these days, pirates use significantly more modern ships. And machine guns rather than canons.” He gestured toward the screen.
“Yes, well, that’s probably got something to do with the ripples. It’ll probably be put right once I find that kettle.”
“But that doesn’t explain why they’re chasing you. What have they got against you?”
“Oh, yes, that. I may have borrowed something of theirs. Well, some things, plural, I suppose. Although I could say it’s just one item I suppose, but then on the other hand…”
“Sorry. Yes. Well. I was in need of a lovely bunch of coconuts so I headed over to the Caribbean, they have loads there. Anyway, I happened upon a box, buried under a tree. No one seemed to want it so I rescued it.”
“Yes. It was full of doubloons, real doubloons, hundreds of them. Anyone could have taken them, I was keeping them safe.
“And they belong to those heavily suntanned chaps with swords on the deck of that thing.” The young man pointed at the screen where the pirate ship appeared to be already half way to the horizon.
“No, they’re pirates. They stole the doubloons, I’m keeping them safe until I find the real owners and do the right thing.”
“So you’ve got them onboard?”
“I spent some, but I’ve kept a record, I’m only borrowing it.”
“Well if you’ve only spent a few they probably won’t notice. Just give it them back.”
“I’ve only got four left.”
“FOUR? You said their were hundreds. What on Earth did you spend it on?”
“An aluminium airship.”
I looked up from my phone as the old man returned. I’d been checking my emails, hoping for good news. I hadn’t got it, only bad. My money had dwindled and my bank statement had arrived. I was terribly overdrawn. No matter, business was good, I’d soon be back on my feet. I smiled and stretched. “Well, I should lock up now.”
“Of course, I’m nearly finished.” I sighed as he sat down.
From the west the old cruise ship approached. Now in it’s twilight years, the SS Uganda was employed mainly to carry parties of unruly, British, inner city school children on cheap educational tours of the Med. The pirate stationed in the crows nest saw it first, shouting down to his captain below.
The youngsters in the tin lid submarine saw the cruise ship a moment or two later,. The slowly curving wake trailing the pirate ship as it changed heading made it clear that the buccaneers had their eyes on fresh bounty.
“I suppose we’d better do something about that.” Harris was the first to speak, the young man was the first to grin.
The engine began to clatter and rattle as Harris frantically wound the two wooden wheels with brass knobs on that protruded from the surface of the desk.
“Is it suppose to make that noise?” The young man shouted over the deafening tinkle of the machinery hidden below his feet.
“Yes, perfectly normal, nothing to get alarmed about. It’s a clockwork engine, brilliant eh?”
“A clockwork submarine?” I looked up from my phone again, having missed most of what the old man had just said.
“Yes. Harris had a fixation on all things green. He thought burning things for power was a sin. Clockwork this, wind powered that, pedal powered the other. One time he tried to harness the power of the sun with a lens and some pumice, he basically built a volcano. He burnt enough stuff that day to power a small town for a week.”
The pirates were already boarding the cruise ship using grappling hooks. The pirate’s numbers where few in comparison to the passengers and crew of the aging rust bucket they were in the process of plundering, but the crescendo of canon fire, flashing blades and hearty “aaaars” they terrified all on board.
The submarine skimmed across the waves on a single hydrofoil that Harris had extended with the winding of yet another wheel before having opened the hatch and climbed onto the deck of the coning tower. The young man joined him there.
“Are you ready, my friend?” Harris had to shout to be heard.
“I’ve nothing better to do.” The young man flashed one of his trademark grins.
Harris unlocked and opened a steel box that was bolted to the floor, rummaging through the contents.
“Here, put these on.” Harris passed his companion a pair of rubber Wellington boots, an antique German army helmet (the kind with the big spike on top), a pair of goggles and a badge that said “Don’t worry, be happy”. The young man shrugged and then did as he’d been asked.
“I don’t suppose we have any weapons, do we?” The young man inquired.
“Of course. Of course.” Harris passed the young man a flintlock pistol and a short, stout sword that appeared to be made of bronze.
“Don’t you have anything more, well, modern?” The young man was unwrapping a pink biscuit as he spoke.
“Modern? These are pirates”, he waved a hand toward the scene that awaited them, “Let’s give them a fighting chance.” Harris smiled. “Now, brace yourself. And hold this.” He passed his young friend the inflatable crocodile he’s used to get ashore earlier.
The noise of a wave-skimming, tin lid clad, clockwork submarine striking the hull of an eighteenth century, three-masted, Bermuda sloop, once the pride of the Royal Navy until it’s liberation from service by it’s current crew, is a sound that had never been heard before. A metallic crumpling noise, a thunderous crack of the timbers as the hull split, the clattering tinkle of the heavy, brass cogs, wheels and springs that made up the engine of the more modern craft and the ecstatic screech of two young men being catapulted through the air toward what could reasonably be considered to be certain death at the hands of a bloodthirsty band of buccaneers. It’s a shame no one was recording it, your imagination really can’t do it justice.
The captain of this crew of corsairs stood on the prow of his doomed craft, a curved, wickedly sharp blade held aloft and mouth gaping as he watched the youngsters sail overhead toward the upper deck of the ship. He reached up and pulled the patch from his face, revealing a perfectly good left eye. The captain liked to look the part, the patch was purely cosmetic.
The group of school kids that had been playing quoits on the top deck were backing away from the slowly advancing pair of pirates that smiled as they approached, tossing their swords from hand to hand menacingly. The sound of two armed men crashing to the deck behind them made them jump, dropping their swords as they turned to see, briefly, the fists of the young men rushing towards their noses. Blackness followed for them both.
One of the children, a book tucked beneath his arm, stepped forward, looked down at the unconscious buccaneers and spoke.
“Are you listening to me?” The old man’s voice startled me, I’d become engrossed in the words on the little screen in my hands and had only being half paying attention.
“Yes, sorry”, I slipped my phone into my pocket and stifled a yawn, “It’s been a long day, please, go on.”
“Well, as you can imagine, the ship was in chaos. Children and teachers rushing left and right, members of the crew trying to get some sort of organisation in place, life boats falling into the waters and the crack of pistol fire from all around. It was absolutely…”
“…fantastic!” The young man said to Harris with whom he was now back to back as they fought four more of their new foes.
“Try and make it to that door over there, we’re too exposed out here.” Harris suggested.
One of the pirates stepped back and raised his elaborate, long barrelled, flintlock pistol, pointing it at the young man’s face and pulling the trigger without hesitation.
The hot, lead ball exploded from the muzzle and span through the air on it‘s deadly journey. Both the young man and Harris sank to their knees as it passed overhead, parting their hair and grazing their scalps before continuing on to strike the chest of the closest of Harris’ two combatants, sending him flailing backwards.
Both the young man and Harris swept out a leg each, sweeping the legs of the two remaining sword wielding pirates from under them and sending them crashing to the deck before leaping up in unison and swinging their swords, bringing them to rest against the Adam’s apple of the fourth, and final, buccaneer as he tried frantically to reload his primitive firearm. He ceased trying and gulped, the movement in his throat bringing forth a single droplet of blood where the tip of the young men’s swords pierced his skin.
Taken from “The Lonely Man Chronicles”.
“The captain stood upon the prow
And watched as his crew gave a lesson in how
To terrorise a ship and crew
To do what pirates love to do
To swash and buckle and buckle and swash
To steal the gold of the rich and the posh
His men now swarmed across his prey
Swinging great swords as their prey rued the day
That they’d climbed aboard this aging wreck
To meet such a fate upon the deck
Of what should have been their floating hotel
Transformed, in an instant, to this living hell
Their canons boomed and pistols cracked
A flurry of violence with no holding back
The wicked men and their murderous minds
Set upon mischief and crimes of all kinds
But what was that up above in the sky?
Two strangely clad lads flying high, passing by
His own sturdy ship as he stood on the prow
And had time to wonder, “What the?” and “How?”
Then the crash from behind as a sub made of tin
Destroyed the rear end and all lay within
The chests of dubloons and the sacks full of jewels
His beautiful bounty destroyed by those fools
The captain had, in his hair and his beard
Smouldering matches for a look that was feared
From the north to the south and the east to the west
Scaring his foes was what he liked best
With a terrible snarl and a roar of pure rage
Captain joined crew and the foe he engaged
In hand to hand combat, though his own held a sword
All ran from his path or leapt overboard
In a terrible panic, they feared for their lives
But needn’t have worried, some help had arrived
In the form of a pair of skinny young men
Who’d fought greater battles when “then” was still “when?”
The party of pirates with greed in their eyes
All at once met an unwelcome surprise
Two lads with broad smiles sharing giggles and winks
One munching a biscuit with wafers of pink
Had arrived in their midst and had started to fight
With great skill and pizzazz on the side we call “right”
They rolled and they swung and they ducked and they leapt
And wave after wave of their foes were just swept
Aside with no effort, a match they were not
They taught them a lesson they never forgot
Never assume the nice man is the meeker
Sometimes you will find it’s the bad that are weaker
So the captain grabbed a rope that hung
From the rigging above, then across had he swung
To land by the door through which he did see
That those Devils in goggles had chosen to flee
He followed them slowly, pistol raised high
Lips curled in a snarl and a glint in his eye
The captain enjoyed and took great pleasure
In his relentless attempts to amass yet more treasure
And any man that stood in his way
Would meet their maker that very same day
The captain stepped in through the door
He’d kill them soon, of that he was sure.”
The young man and Harris laughed as they strolled below decks. Harris’ tin lid submarine was currently sinking the bottom of the Mediterranean along with the pirates ill gotten gains.
“Should we report to the captain or something?” Harris spoke.
“Dunno. I’m starving, can you smell food? I’m sure I can smell food.”
The pair climbed down a flight of metal stairs, the sound of their footsteps echoing all around.
“I think we should report to the captain, there might be some official forms to fill out and…”
“Galley? That means kitchen, right?” The young man pointed at a sign above a door. “I’m sure that means kitchen.”
“Yes, it does, but we really should…” The young man paid no attention to Harris’ words and stepped into the galley as the pirate made his move.
A hand clamped around Harris mouth and he felt the cold, solid, metal barrel of the ancient, but still very efficient, flintlock pistol being pressed into his throat.
“Shhh.” The captain smiled, he liked to play with his prey
“Biscuits, Harris, loads of bisc… ooh, chicken and…” The young man turned around, already hungrily demolishing a chicken drumstick. “Oh.”
“Lay the pistol aside, matey, I’m sure your friend would appreciate it.”
“Would you?” The young man directed his question at the hostage.
“Not particularly. He’ll just kill us both.”
“Yes, probably.” The young man elected to raise his own pistol and aim it at the captains nose. “You, put yours down and let my friend go.”
The captain pulled back the hammer on the side of his weapon. Click, click, click. “Oy don’t think so.”
“”Oy”? Did you say “Oy”?” The young man sniggered.
“I always thought that was a joke thing, that accent.” Harris laughed. The captain’s face reddened.”
“Hey, Harris, why are pirates called pirates?”
“No idea, why ARE pirates called pirates?”
“Because they “AAARRRRR”.” Both Harris and the young man burst out in laughter.
The captain was confused. These scurvy rats weren’t supposed to be laughing. He was in control, why weren‘t they afraid? The rage bubbled inside him as his finger began to squeeze the trigger.
“Enough!” The captains voice was higher in pitch. “Put down that tharr firearm or oyl blow ‘is ‘ead orfff, aaarrrr.”
The young man doubled over laughing, as would Harris but for the pirates arm across his throat. Still he laughed, tears streaming from his eyes.
“Stop your laaarfin’, stop it now!” He raised his hand and fired into the air. The boys ceased laughing.
But continued smiling.
“Well, well. If my maths are right I’d say you were out of ammunition. Unlike my very good self.” He smiled a warm smile.
Click, click, click.
“Did you shoot him?”
“I should have, I suppose. He’d have shot me, but it wouldn’t have been fair.”
“So you gave him over to the authorities?”
“No. No, I gave him a chance.”
Harris took a seat on the cold, steel work surface, crossed his legs and leant forward to watch.
The young man and the pirate were circling each other, a cutlass in the hand of the older man and a short, bronze sword in that of the younger. The pirate was almost doubled over, favouring a crouching stance. The young man was scratching his head, yawning and vaguely waving his sword in the general direction of his opponent.
The pirate struck first, roaring as he launched himself at the young man with cutlass held high in both hands. The young man ceased yawning, his smile now gone as he parried away the first strike, dodging around the back of the buccaneer a performing a rather theatrical pirouette. The smile returned, enraging the captain further as he swung around.
“Oh very nice, my friend, very nice. Where did you learn that?”
“”Billy Elliot”, you seen it? Top film.”
I shook my head, smiled and stopped myself from interrupting. I’d seen the film he mentioned, and I knew it hadn’t be made until decades later, but I chose to ignore it. After all, it wasn’t the most incredible part of the tale. And, as the old man was fond of saying,
“Never let the facts get in the way of a right good tale.”
The pirate swung again and again. Each time the young man took a step back, parried or twirled, the blade never quite connecting with his tanned flesh.
“I fancy a brew, do you want one?” Harris called across, already searching for teabags. “I don’t know about you, but all this sea air gets me really parched.”
The young man had his back against the wall on the far side of the galley, now unable to retreat any further and so parrying and blocking the buccaneers blows instead.
“Do they have any Darjeeling?” The young man called between clashes.
“Darjeeling? Really? Do you like that stuff?”
“I’ve no idea, never tried it, but it always sounds so posh, I feel posh right now. With milk and sugar. I’ve already got biscuits.” He drew a pink wafer from his pocket and took a bite.
The pirate couldn’t believe his eyes or his ears. Never had he fought such a skilled swordsman, and never had he been so disrespected. Tea?
The young man stepped toward the pirate as the blade swished by just centimetres above the patch of bare scalp, burned and red from the too close passage of a pirates projectile, on the top of his head. He drew back his head and…
He head butted his assailant, crushing the cartilage of his nose and replacing his vision with greyness and stars. Slowly, he sank to his knees and toppled forward.
“How many sugars?” Harris asked as his friend stepped over the prone pirate.
“Four.” The young man joined his friend, busily preparing the cups as the kettle began to boil. The steam hissed from the spout and the crack in the lid before instantly misting up his goggles. He turned, arms folded across his chest, and leant back against the worktop.
The misty goggles prevented him seeing clearly, just a collection of indistinct shapes and blurry colours. A tiny droplet of water formed at the top of the left lens as the vapour cooled, becoming fatter and heavier until gravity had it’s way and it rolled down the glass leaving a clear but narrow trail of clarity. Still, not enough to see the pirate advancing, shakily, with cutlass held aloft, until it was too late.
The pirate struck…
…his already bloody nose against the door of the tea cupboard Harris had just swung open in his pursuit of more sugar. His right arm, still clasping the grip of the cutlass, continued on it’s deadly, though slightly deviated, course. The blade crashed into the spike fixed atop the helmet that the young man was, very sensibly, wearing. It’s course further changed by this, the blade continued downwards, bringing sparks from the antique helmet itself before narrowly missing the young man’s shoulder and crashing into the hard, metal work top, severing the cables that lay strewn across and bringing the kettles boil to an end with a bang.
The captain’s teeth chattered as every muscle in his body shook. His precious, gold fillings began to melt in his teeth and the smoke from the matches in his beard and hair was joined by the smoke of his own burning flesh. Finally, after what seemed to the captain an age, he slumped once again to his knees before toppling over for the last ever time.
The young man, arms still folded and eyes as big as saucers, glanced across at his friend.
“What happened? How the? Why didn‘t I get electrocuted as well?”
Harris pointed at the young man’s rubber boot clad feet.
“Science, my friend. Science and appropriate footwear. “ He smiled.
“Oh, look, we seem to have found what we were looking for.” The young man pointed at the kettle, steam still pouring from the broken, red lid and the cutlass-severed power chord curled by its side.
The schoolchildren that had stood, huddled against the railing and fearing for their lives, when Harris and the young man had landed on the deck were very grateful. They hid their rescuers below decks in their large dormitory overnight whilst the educational ship made for the nearest port, Algiers, to meet with the authorities and hand the pirates over to them. All but one had been found, once the Royal Navy had arrived, alive but sheepish and tied to the railings. One more was found, not alive and in no way sheepish (although he was as well cooked as a good joint of lamb) on the floor of the galley having been electrocuted.
Once ashore the old friends had to part ways.
“Why don’t you come with me for a bit?”
“Oh, I’d love to, but I left Ronnie running the shop and she’d terrible for letting people have credit. I’ve told her, a million times, no credit but she won’t listen. Oh, speaking of money, here…” Harris pressed a gold coin, a doubloon, into his friend’s hand. “This should keep you going for a bit.” He winked.
The young man smiled at his friend.
“Where will you go now?”
“I’ve absolutely not idea.”
“That sounds familiar.” The pair laughed, memories of an old friend flooding back.
“Take care, Harris.”
He’d finished at last, I glanced at my phone to check the time.
“Right, my friend, you’ll have me here all night if I let you.” He smiled his charming smile at me as he stood to leave. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Let yourself out,” I called as I opened the till drawer to count the takings. I grabbed a handful of one pound pieces and looked up, “See you in the morning.”
The old man waved as he closed the door behind him. He stood a moment in the doorway, looking left and right and up at the sky before striding away, swinging his cane and whistling.
I dumped the change on the counter and began to count.
“One, two, three, four, fi…” I stopped. A coin, larger than the others and a different colour to those around it had caught my attention. I plucked it from the pile and held it up to examine.
Smoothed from years of handling, it was hard to make out the detail. A fat man with a ponytail, the year, “1792”, and a few indistinct letters around the edge. I squinted. It read “HISP.ETIND.R”