CHAPTER SIX – The Old Witch of the Sea

Another week sails by. The Caribbean Sea can be a beautiful yet treacherous place. For one thing, the sun is a wonderful thing when you can lie on a beach with ice-cold drinks and a carousel close by but this was no day at the beach for Pegleg Pete and Gruel. Their skin was cracked, red and scorched. Their tongues were dry, swollen and cranky. Their vision was blurry, saturated and borderline untrustworthy.

Pegleg Pete had packed enough supplies for one month. The journey should have taken no more ten days. However, they were fourteen days in with no sign of land and running dangerously low on food and water. Gruel was parched and ravenous, but he decided channelled those primal urges into a question.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

“Yes, I think.”

“I don’t know how much longer I can take this. The endless blue. Being surrounded by water I can’t drink. Birds circling above waiting for our bodies to go limp.”

“Let me take ya mind off death, kid.” Pete sat up and adjusted his pirate’s hat. “Why don’t you tell me how ya escaped from the cold, evil hands of that mermaid?”

Gruel had successfully dodged that question all week. He did not want to tell his only chance of making it through this hell that he was cursed. If he found out would Pete throw him overboard or run him through there and then. He no longer had the energy to change the subject so he strung together he best attempt at a lie.

“I fought my way free and swam for my life.”

Pegleg Pete stared him down. The next five seconds felt like five minutes. Then he laughed in his hearty way and slapped him on the back.

“At a boy, my lad. Spoken like a true pirate”. He reaches for the last pigskin and took a swig of water. “There are only two ways to escape the slow and agonizing death by a mermaid. They have a grip stronger and heavy then an anchor. You’ve either gotta run or outsmart them. No pirate has either outsmarted a mermaid before, kid. So that makes you a fine pirate indeed.”

Pete handed him the water. Gruel let out a sigh of relief and took a swig. Pete returned his feet to the edge of the boat, leaned back and tip his hat over his head. “Anyway, mermaids are the least of our worries. There’s….. list of sea monsters”.

“No need to tremble. My sword has tasted all of there blood at my hand.”

“I should carry a sword too, right.”

“Not yet, kid. You leave the swashbuckling to me. And it seems you’ve got a monster of your own right behind ya.”

Gruel heard Pete’s voice wobble slightly. But he knew better than to fall for another one of his tricks.

“Just keep real still, kid. Don’t you move”. Pegleg Pete’s hand trembled as he reached for his pistol.

“You can stop right there. I know you’re playing me again.”

“Whatever you do, don’t turn around.” He was trying to load the pistol but kept dropping bullets owing to his shaking hand.

“Pete, stop talking like that. You’re scaring me.”

“Believe me, kid. No one is more scared than I am right now.” Then Pete lifted the loaded pistol and aimed it to the left of Gruel’s head. He was lost for words. He had never seen a firearm before and this was not how he imagined his first experience of one would go. Pete steadied his hand and pulled the trigger.

A sharp, loud bang erupted from the barrel.

Gruel’s heart stopped beating.

Smoke drifted from beating.

A heavy thud echoed behind him.

Gruel slowly turned around to check if the monster was dead. It was no monster. It was a seagull.

“For crying out loud”, shouted Gruel. “You could’ve killed me. That’s the last time you play a practical joke on me, understood.”

This time there was no laughter. Pegleg Pete stood still at the other end of the boat staring at the bird’s carcass. “Is it dead?”

Gruel kicked it. Nothing. “Of course it’s dead, you just shot it.”

“Are you sure. Check again.”

“Pete, are you afraid of seagulls?”

“No, but I am afraid of its master. Check again, please just do it.”

Gruel leaned in closer. There was no movement and no sign of life. Gruel looked at the bullet wound and noticed a shine of fresh meat glinting in the sun. “Yep, it’s dead alright. And that gives me an idea.”

By nightfall Gruel had managed to pluck, skin, gut and boil the bird. He was no cook but the broth smelt like the best thing he had ever smelt.

“You’ve got some nerve eating that thing you know, are you trying to get us killed?”

“Relax, it’s just a seagull. Nobody’s going to miss one seagull.”

“Oh, she will, alright.” Scoffed Pete. “And when she comes for us I ain’t defending you, oh no. She’s one monster I always run from.”

“You still haven’t said her name yet you know.”

“And summon her. No way.”

“You were the one who shot her pet, remember.”

“Well someone had too. It had heard too much. We couldn’t risk her or anyone else finding us before we reach the island.”

Gruel picked up the cooked bird and sunk his teeth into the juiciest part. His belly grumbled with pleasure.

Pete quickly changed the subject. “Tell me more about yourself, kid. You got any family?”

“None”, replied Gruel. “My mother died of tuberculosis when I was a baby and my dad left me at an orphanage. I don’t have anything to remember him by except for this scar.” He lifted his shirt and revealed the scar on his upper right peck above the nipple.

Pete pushed the cooked bird aside for a closer look at the scar.

“Oh yes, that’s a good one. Very clear. You can tell it was a high-quality cigar too by the definition and indent of the burn. Your dad had good taste.”

Gruel pushed him away. “Watch it, I’m still eating you know.”

“Fine, that’s fine. The kid likes his own space. I’ll just take another look when there’s more light in the morning instead.”

Gruel took another bite when he noticed something in the distance. It was tiny but distinct. “Is that a ship?”

Pegleg leap to his foot and stump and took out his telescope with haste. “How did they find us?”

Gruel looked in the other direction and noticed something else. A storm cloud the size of Jamaica was approaching them. The wind whipping the boat from side to side and the air pressure changed to warn of the danger. He could see lightning in the distance and then he heard it thunder.

“We need to surrender and get aboard that bigger boat”, whimpered Gruel.

“Never. The storm means we’re close to the island. We sail into its mouth.”

“But what about them.” Gruel pointed at the ship that was gaining fast.

“We’ll lose them in the storm.”

“And what makes you so sure?” “Because only a pirate with a death wish would do such a thing.”

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