CHAPTER TEN – The Kiss of Life Isn’t a Pretty One

Gruel spat water out from his lungs. He rolled onto his side and continued to rid the water from his body whilst gasping for much-needed air. He couldn’t remember exactly what happened. He did remember the impact, the two hundred foot drop followed by a gigantic slam into the ice-cold water. He did remember the rolling water pushing down. He did remember panicking, not know which way was up. That was it until now lying on the river bed wondering what happened.

“That’s it, kid”, said Pete as his chest heaved in and out violently. “As my ma’am used to say, better out than in.” Pegleg Pete was short of breath too. So would you if you almost drowned.

“What happened?”

“I came up to the surface and you didn’t. You would have been fish food if I hadn’t dragged you out. Can’t you swim?”

Gruel felt his face go red. Fortunately, a side effect of almost drowning is a very teddy purple face so Pete didn’t notice. He turned away and said, “of course I can. It’s just my first time plummeting down a waterfall after being chased by pirates, that’s all.”

Pete laughed. “Yeah, me too. Well, there’s a first time for everything. And that includes having to do mouth to mouth resuscitation.”

Gruel suddenly became very aware of the taste of whiskey and saliva on his lips. He immediately jumped back into the water and scrubbed the filthy thought from his entire body. Pete continued the laugh in his usual manner, then patted his jacket and signed for the loss of his hip flask.

“Come on, kid. We ain’t got time for a bath. We’ve gotta keep moving.”

“No”, said Gruel firmly. “It’s time you stopped lying and confess. Who are you?”

“It’s a long story. I wouldn’t want to bore you with so let’s forget all about and . . .”

“Stop”, interrupted Gruel. “You tricked me into coming along to this dangerous place. I’ve been dragged to the bottom of the ocean by a mermaid, shipwrecked by a storm, captured by pirates and thrown over a waterfall to almost die. I deserve to know the truth.”

Pete sighed and slumped to the ground. “Fine, you want the truth then here it is. I ain’t no pirate, I’m a common thief. I make up all the stories to draw a crowd, then rob a few purses from the ones too drunk to notice.”

Gruel was shocked. That was the last thing he was expecting to hear. All his stories had so much detail and adventure and danger.

“One night I was playing cards at the Something Tavern and I won a treasure map. I committed it to memory and burned it and then everything happened so fast. It seemed like a good idea to persuade you to join me because, well, you were the closest thing I had to a friend and I knew I’d need company on the journey and an extra pair of hands for the booty.”

It was starting to make more sense now. He must have been playing cards with Captain Bloodhound and cheated to win the map, hence why the pirate captain called Pegleg Pete a cheating thief. And what thief could resist the possibility of robbing the world-famous pirate hoard of Henry Morgan? None, Gruel suspected.

“I’m sorry, kid. Can you find it in your heart to forgive an old man?”

Gruel decided not to answer him. Instead, he began to walk away.

“Wait, what about the treasure?”

Gruel didn’t look back and continued walking.

“You can hate me all you want but we can still find it together. I need you and you need me. You wouldn’t last an hour on your own in the jungle.”

Gruel didn’t flinch. At least jaguar’s and snakes are honest.

“But, but don’t you want to know my real name?”

Gruel stopped. He turned around and Pegleg was gone. He had disappeared completely. Gruel ran back and searched the area but there was no sign of him anywhere.

“Over here”, shouted the thief.

Gruel looked to where the voice came from. He was looking at the waterfall. Then an arm stretched out and gestured towards the water.

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