The sandy shores promised paradise. As the waves pressed the dingy closer, the men drew silent. Palms stretched over the beach and waved like welcoming hands. Shells glittered the sand like jewels. Dreamy. The slap of waves drew the longboat onshore, and the men jumped out, one hand on their weapons.
Cook’s dingy lay thrashed up shore, dried seaweed and dark smears upon it.
Viper felt eeriness upon the island. A dark heaviness. All the men felt it and it put them on edge. They looked at each other. Viper nodded at Outlaw and they both ascended the beach treading up the soft sand to the empty dingy, Strudel and Albie behind them.
When they reached the boat, Albie leaned close to examine the dark smears on the stern. He scratched at it with his thumbnail, then licked it.
“It be blood, ” he whispered and looked at Viper.
Viper contemplated this.
A horn blew. A war cry.
All the men turned left towards the riot of noise. They drew their swords and pistols.
A skeleton child sprang out of the palms. “Yayaya!”
Strudel screamed like a girl, fired his pistol in the air and fell on his plump arse.
Outlaw straightened his Bowie at the skeleton child’s neck, while Albie aimed his pistol.
“Hold it, ye blood thirsty roach monkeys!” said Viper.
“Roach monkey?” asked Strudel.
The skeleton child wore nothing but a small animal pelt about his waist. Blood poured from his head. “Mister!” he cried out. “Oh mister, help me, please!”
“Did ye be sayin help?” asked Viper, looking down at the runt.
“They killed Piggy, and now they’ll kill me too!” He pointed at his head. Blood poured from the gash. His body was covered in bruises and cuts.
Another war cry, and a herd of little boys came running from the same direction. Each at full speed. They held sticks with sharpened rocks and slingshots of sorts.
When they saw Viper and his brutes, they stopped, collapsing into each other one by one. They packed together and whispered. Every so often, a small head peeked over another in a childish manner, then poked back into the crowd.
“Who be they?” asked Viper to the skeleton child.
“They’re the others. The kids that want to kill me.”
“Because I want to burn fire. They want to hunt. Are you the Navy?”
Viper squinted at the boy who stared intensely at him with bright blue eyes. He started laughing. He looked at Outlaw who started chuckling. Outlaw glanced back at Strudel, still sitting on his arse, who outright guffawed, and Albie rubbed his head and cried with laughter.
“This is a serious matter, mister.”
“Go tell yer mum, pretty boy.”
“Our airplane crashed. My mom thinks I’m dead. But now that you’ve come to save us…”
Outlaw said, “A flying contraption?”
“Mmm… can I see it?”
The boy looked at him annoyed.
Viper said, “So ye be flying chickens? Th’ lot o’ ya?”
The pirates glanced about at each other, uncomfortable.
The boy pressed his lips together. Thunder clapped somewhere far away.
“Well, be ye or not?”
Outlaw scratched his jaw line with his Bowie in thought. “He said airplane. It’s from the future. It’s like a ship with wings.”
Viper’s eyes grew wide. He turned to Outlaw. “Really?”
Outlaw shrugged. “Kind of.”
Viper turned back to the boy. “Be ye from th’ future?”
The little boy shook his head and shrugged. Tears came to his eyes. “I don’t know.”
“Does th’ Sea of Imagination mean anything t’ ye?”
The skeleton boy’s eyes grew even rounder if that was possible. His voice shrank to a whisper. “That would mean I’m in someone’s mind. Made up like a story. That’s ridiculous! I just want to get home to my mother. I want my friend back.” He wiped his nose, looking very small.
Viper stunned, locked in these thoughts for later. “What be yer name?”
Viper turned to Albie and Strudel. He pointed to the flock of ghastly mini war mongers. “Go be scarin th’ Davy Jones outta those lads, aye! An scare’em good. We be stayin as landlubbers tonight, an me don’t wanna be pestered by a bunch o’ lopsy cur lost boys.”
“Aye, Aye, Cap’n!” they both cried in unison and drew their swords.
“Garrrr!” They frolicked as loons waving their swords at the tribe of young boys with blood on their cheeks and animal skin around their waists. The tribe scattered and fled in horror.
“Albie!” yelled Outlaw.
Albie turned from his fun.
“If ye get th’ chance. Catch one fer me. I need bait fer another croc since yer Cap’n stole me pants!” He slapped his bare thigh for emphasis.
Albie smiled a crooked smile, saluted Outlaw, then turned and continued his chase.
Viper raised his eyebrow at Outlaw.
Outlaw bowed, then grabbed the edges of his black and white shorts and twirled.
Viper smiled and winked. “ ‘ware fer the isle crabs, mate! They’ll crawl right up ye britches when ye ain’t lookin an latch on. Once ye got ‘em, they never let go.”
Outlaw returned a horrified look and immediately glanced at the sand, bent and brushed at his legs.
Viper ripped the sleeve off his shirt and turned to the boy. He motioned the boy to step forward. The boy hesitated, but took a step toward Viper.
“There’s a lad,” said Viper and thumped him on the back. He split his sleeve into two. Took half of it, spit on it twice, and used it to clean the head wound. “’ell, Ralph, looks like yer mutt mates’ll be leaving ye alone fer now.”
He wrapped the other half of the sleeve tightly about the boy’s head to halt the bleeding and tied it. “Ye’ll be fine. Now. Dig me a hole. Me best scollywog kicked the bucket.”
The boy touched the cared for wound and glanced at Viper. “But aren’t you the Navy? Shouldn’t he have a proper burial at home?”
“Shiver me timbers, lad! Dig me a hole or off t’ Davy Jones ye’ll be.” Viper tossed the boy a shovel.
The boy caught the shovel. He knelt and, very gently, wiped the top layer of sand from the beach floor. He brushed his hand back and forth like a broom with the care of a mother, then stood, stretched, and sank the tip of the shovel in.
Viper and Outlaw watched all this in silence. Both were thinking the same thing.
Outlaw said, “Why do you suppose he wiped the top layer away?”
“Me don’t rightly know. Odd lad,” Viper said.
“He looks like a skeleton, he does. I wonder if that’s why the others hassle him? Do ya think they want to eat’im?” asked Outlaw.
“Why’d they be wanting t’ eat a skeleton?” asked Viper.
Well,” said Outlaw. “Not everyone eats a person for their meat. If they wanted meat they’d eat a hog on the isle. Look…” between outstretched palms and glistening plants, a hog’s head sat skewered on a pike. Flies, hundreds of them, hovered about it.
“It’s a power they are after. Perhaps something he possesses?”
“He don’t look that powerful to me,” said Viper.
The boy turned the earth well. His body was small, but strong.
Outlaw said, “We should keep him and call him Skelly.”
As Viper considered this, he heard a tinkle of bells. He turned towards the sound.
Outlaw grinned. “Cap’n, you be hearing th’ girlie jingles?”
Viper folded his arms. “Shut yer mouth!”
The boy stopped and glanced at him. “You hear her too?”
Startled, Viper cried out, “Who, lad? Who?”
“The shadow fairy. They only let the ones they like hear them. She has a soft jingle and smells like limes.”
“Shadow fairy! Skelly, oh, Skelly don’t get him goin’! Hot damn this be good!” Outlaw fell to the ground laughing so hard he inhaled sand and started coughing.
A jingle of bells lighted to the left of where Viper and the boy stood. They both turned.
“Don’t you hear her?” asked the boy.
Viper nodded. “Can I see her?”
Skelly shrugged and pointed to the dark shadow of a palm. “Only sometimes. She has to stay in the shadows; the sun turns her into shapes that would scare even you! Makes her grumpy, even grumpier than she already is. She doesn’t like many people, the other boys are mad about that, too. You see she is the most powerful fairy in the realms. She can make anyone’s wish come true, but shadow fairies are prone to dark moods and jealousy.”
Viper asked, “Who be she jealous of?”
“Tinker Bell made it off the island a few years back. She grants little, stupid wishes to little, stupid girls. So all humanity loves Tinker Bell best. No one believes in shadow fairies anymore, except the boys here, but she doesn’t like any of them.”
A sharp ring of bells confirmed this.
Viper wrinkled his nose and attempted to pronounce the word. “Tinker?”
The bells rang again. They sounded angry and far away.
“Now you done it. Sunny Bunny, come back. He didn’t mean it.” The boy turned to Viper. “She’s mad alright.”
Outlaw stopped coughing and resumed laughing. “I can’t believe it. A shadow fairy named Sunny Bunny?”
“Idiot,” said the boy. “Don’t you know once the Almighty Toads have named a fairy at birth she can never change her name?”
Outlaw let out a wheeze like a dying donkey in the desert.
Viper turned and surveyed the rising and falling prisms of the sea. He whispered more to himself than to the boy. “She can make anyone’s wish come true…”
He turned back with earnest. “Can she bring someone back from the dead?”
The boy’s face turned to stone, but his voice was soft. “You can call me Skelly. I like that.” He resumed digging.
To be continued….