Episode 3: “Sizzle Me A Pirate Stump”
“Land ho, Cap’n! Me sees the Invisible Islands!” From the crow’s nest, Big Bob pointed west. The crew looked. There was nothing.
Strudel knelt at the captain’s boots and rubbed grease on the rough leather. “How does he be doin’ that?”
Viper sat on The High Log, throne of The Wicked Woman. The treasure map stretched between his fingers. He had been staring at it for days; it was an enigma. The map’s images and words, having fallen wet during the attack on the frogslingers’ ship, blurred. At the bottom were slight waves with the word,
Further north, Viper turned the map sideways, actually further west… He turned it back. Or was it? For the fifth time that morning, Viper pulled out his compass. The needle spun in circles, indecisive between west and north. He turned back to the map, a sharp line lied between the two seas; an arrow pointed smack dab in the middle. Nothing was written beneath it. Curious. There were more waves, then the words,
Sea Of Imagination
From there, the journey continued into waters, lands, and places, he’d never heard of. They’d been traveling north… or west… for days with nary a site. Something was awry. The flat line with an arrow drawn above it puzzled him. It was as if a barrier separated one sea from the other. Viper glanced up at Strudel. “Be doin’ what?”
“Be seein’ th’ invisible islands,” said Strudel.
“Nobody be seein’ th’ invisible islands, because they are not to be seen.”
Strudel sat up and looked at Viper. “But Big Bob just says he be seein’-”
Viper rolled his good eye. “I know what Big Bob said, he be pretendin’.”
Strudel scrunched his face, so his jolly cheeks flopped out like a puppy’s. “Pretendin’?”
“Shiver me timbers! Me be hearin’ of no worse thing. Ye can rape ‘n plunder, but nuttin’ be screwin’ wi’ an ol’ gentleman o’ fortune’s mind like pretendin’.” Strudel drew a wooden device out of his endless shirt pockets and clipped it onto his nose.
Viper raised an eyebrow, questioning.
Strudel’s voice turned nasally and high. “Tis called a clothes line clip, but me uses it fer me nose.” He pointed at Viper’s feet, and waved his hand under his nose.
Viper stared at him.
Strudel took this as encouragement. “Ye ought t’ keelhaul ‘im, if ye ask me. Nobody doin’ any dreamin’ outta be on this ship. Plum annoyin’.”
Viper leaned over, plucked the clothes clip from Strudel’s nose and tossed it. “Bite yer bloody tongue, an scrub me damn boot.”
Strudel, quiet, set to work once more.
Viper watched Big Bob recline. He pointed the spyglass to the clouds and followed a gull with it. They’d found him on a small tropical island, wrapped around a keg of moonshine, crying like a baby. He claimed to have been on a jaunt from Russia exporting puppies and ponies of the grandest variety, when a dragon the color of emeralds parted the sky, and scorched their ship with flames. Big Bob had shaped up well. He could pull line like a workhorse, drank too much, and told many a sea tales they enjoyed, but did not believe. They all assumed he’d gone a bit mad from the sun.
Viper brought his hand to his chin and stroked it, thinking. He looked west were Big Bob had pointed and for a moment, a mirage appeared, silver and shiny like a chip of ice held over a metal spoon. It rose from the ocean and crested the clouds. Viper dropped the map and jumped to his feet. “What be thar!”
Strudel turned to look. “Cap’n, what you be—“
A strong gale thrashed the boat, and the Wicked Woman nearly tipped on its side. Viper fell backwards into the chair, and Strudel went rolling off the quarterdeck. Startled men yelled. Big Bob held onto the mast, his deep voice cried, “There she blows!”
And just as suddenly as the gale had come, she left. As the Wicked Woman righted herself, a shriek like an eel pierced the still air, everyone turned and looked towards the hatch.
“Cap’n!” Albie popped out of the hatch like a gopher, and scrambled towards Viper. Another shriek rang from below. “Da cook be having a problem, Cap’n, an we be not knowin’ what to-”
“Albie? Slow down, I can’t hear what ye be sayin’.” Viper looked where he’d seen the silver sheen, it was gone. He turned back Albie.
“He cut ‘is hand off. Damn Cook cut ‘er straight off with th’ last wave, and thar be blood-”
Viper and Strudel scrambled below deck before Albie could finish.
Cook screamed. The crew yelled. Ogre sat on the man’s chest and poured grog on the stump where the hand used to be. Blood mixed with the brew and spilled into puddles on the floor.
Viper leaned close to Strudel. “Ye have me pipe with th’ magic?”
“Aye,” Strudel replied, searched his pockets, found it, and handed it to Viper.
Viper yelled. “Shut up, ye mama’s boys. Fetch me a block o’ iron. Scorch it over the flames ‘til it be blazing red. Albie, grab me a hook from th’ emergency chest.”
He grasped Cook under his arm, and gripped his shoulder. “Ogre, lets sit ‘em up against yonder wall.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” They dragged him to the wall. Cook wailed as his stump brushed against Viper’s thigh.
Viper rubbed the blood between his fingers. “Thars me hearty! Today me Cook becomes a true buccaneer. Arrrr!” He thumped Cook’s chest.
“Arrrr!” yelled the crew.
Cook looked around deliriously. At the Arrr! He smiled a lopsided smile, and his eyes rolled back in his head.
“Get me a bottle of rum, mutts! This brute needs a drink.”
A bottle was thrust into Viper’s hands. He drank, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, then offered it to Cook. He gulped it down too fast, and spit some out.
The crew laughed.
Viper plunked the pipe into Cook’s mouth. “Smoke this, me Bucko! Tis be need’in it.”
“Cap’n, th’ iron be redder than th’ devil heself!” said Albie.
“Fine, Albie, jest fine. Help Ogre keep Cook down.” Both men jumped to either side.
Viper removed the pipe from Cook’s lips. He ripped off a stretch of fabric from his pant leg, tied it in a large knot and put it between the Cook’s teeth. “Best be bitin’ on this.”
“Here.” The voice grunted from the shadows. Two hands reached out, one held a mitt, the other a smoldering, lean block of iron. Viper followed the arms back to a face. Its mustache curled into perfect pigtails on each side, slick and sharp. His hair was dark and greasy. Long slices of scar graced each cheekbone, and his eyes burned as hot as the iron he held. Skulker.
Their eyes locked.
Viper yelled, “Ye mutts get the hook?”
“Hook!” yelled a brute from the back of the crowd. “Hook!” said another.
And slowly the chant gripped all. “Hook! Hook! Hook!”
Viper took the mitt from Skulker, slid his hand into it, then took the iron bar. Skulker nodded, and Viper nodded back. A mutual respect passed between the two.
He turned his attention to Cook. Sweat cascaded down the man’s brow and pooled between his ribs and belly. Viper then looked at Albie and Ogre who were both breathing heavy, eyes trained on Viper. He yelled above the voices, “Hold’er steady, boys!”
Viper knelt and placed Cook’s stump on his knee and gripped it. In his right hand, the iron sizzled and spat, he brought it near the bleeding stump.
Viper hesitated, and he could feel the viper behind his wooden eye stir and awake with his own emotion. “Strudel!”
Strudel placed the pipe between his lips. Viper took in a big breath, and then set it free. He clutched Cook’s arm, grit the pipe between his lips, and kissed hot iron to the open wound.
Flesh seared and sizzled. Cook jumped and struggled against Albie and Ogre. An agonized scream escaped around the rag. The scent of burned flesh filled the air.
Viper brought the iron away, and inspected the stump. Blood still seeped from the lower part. He shook his head. “He’s medium rare, but we like ‘em well done, right sprogs?”
“Arrr!” yelled the men.
“Again!” said Viper.
Albie and Ogre braced themselves against Cook. Viper plunged the iron into the raw flesh. Another fierce sizzle. A scream. A blasting scent of burnt flesh.
Viper counted a minute, then removed the iron. “Looks good.” He handed the iron to Skulker, and shook off the mitt.
Cook reeled. The white of his eyeballs rolled. He’d spit out the rag and was foaming at the mouth.
“You think that hurt, matey? That be nothing compared to this.” He rubbed his wooden eye, where he felt the viper rise and strike. Perspiration dripped off his nose. Viper ripped off his shirt and threw it at nearby cabin boy. He removed the pipe from his mouth. “Hand me the hook!”
To be continued…