Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How to Become a Pirate Hunter: Prologue

The following is the Prologue of 
How to Become a Pirate Hunter 
(coming out on 14 March). 
The Prologue was transferred from the final printing proof so there may be some formatting errors to forgive; otherwise, enjoy! 

(P.S. More fun announcements are pending ... stay tuned)

“Well,” Eric’s high school counselor asked again. “What do you want to do after you graduate?”

Eric hated this question above all others, because adults seem to care about little else when it comes to adolescent children. And without a good answer . . . well, that quickly turns a conversation awkward. 

A couple of cookie cutter jobs flashed through Eric’s mind: firefighter, doctor, professional athlete, astronaut, and dozens of others. He sighed. Those are the same answers elementary school kids give, not juniors in high school. Besides, none of them fit him. Not any job he knew fit him. In spite of this, Mr. Pickney, his counselor, waited for an answer, so he threw one out. “Newspaper reporter.”

Mr. Pickney nodded. “Eric, if you want to be a newspaper journalist, your writing skills are going to have to improve. You are barely getting by in your English classes.”

Eric squirmed and finally confessed, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Okay . . .” Mr. Pickney responded, “What are your hobbies? What is it that you are good at?”

Eric shifted, liking this meeting less and less. He thought hard but drew a blank. Mr. Pickney raised his eyebrows expectantly. 

“I . . . uh . . . I’m pretty good at flying kites,” Eric answered seriously.

“Kites.” Mr. Pickney tried, as he had been taught, not to demean any adolescent’s ambitions. “That’s good but, uh, as far as I know, there are currently no careers on the lookout for expert kite flyers.”

Eric nodded submissively while Mr. Pickney continued. “Now, what else are you good at?”

Eric winced as he gave the only answer to come to his mind. “I’m pretty good at finding people when playing hide-and-go-seek . . .” 

Mr. Pickney frowned. “Eric, I’m not playing around here. This is your future we’re talking about. I’m trying to help you.”

Eric settled back in his chair and crossed his arms. “I’m not playing around either. That’s all I’m good at! I have no talents. You think I’m happy about that future?”

Eric returned to his classroom frustrated, as he always was after meetings with school counselors. Now, he thought, I’ll return to my science class, where I will get a mediocre grade, just like the rest of my mediocre life.

Eric sat down at his desk, studying his classmates with jealousy. Brandon was a great all-around athlete. Jeanie boasted an incredible singing voice. Tina could work out any math problem you gave her. Even Christopher—yes, Christopher—with his poor hygiene and thick-rimmed glasses, was unparalleled with his computer knowledge. While scanning the rest of the room, Eric could pinpoint redeeming qualities of each of his fellow students, regardless of whether they were popular, outcasts, unknown, or even hated. Eric turned his thoughts back to himself. There isn’t one thing I’m good at, he thought. Not one. He sighed, succumbing to his useless fate.

* * *

“Land ho!”

That phrase usually incited excitement among a crew, but the sleek, two-masted sailing sloop, the Rosemary, had been sailing in and out of sight of the mainland to the south of them for a couple of days. At this point, however, the mainland lay shrouded by some low-hanging clouds, so Samuel wondered what the lookout meant. A glance to the west, the direction the ship was headed, revealed the mystery as a slight landfall slipped into view. Samuel gazed at it curiously until he recalled
the captain’s charts in his mind.

“Must be the Montes de Oca island chain,” the second mate, Mr. Gary, murmured as he located the same blur on the horizon. “If it weren’t so hazy, we would be able to see the mainland jut out there
toward it.”

Though Samuel was not in the mood for conversation, he nodded at the second mate’s comment, “San Fernando Channel.” He sighed, relieved. “We’re nearly there.”

“And not a moment too soon, either,” Mr. Gary appended.

Samuel could not have agreed more. He gazed across the deck of the Rosemary, strewn with loose rigging, splintered spars, tackles, and blocks. He turned around to gauge their progress, judging their distance from a lone, barren island a couple of leagues back. Though the breeze remained constant and in their favor, the ship crawled forward sluggishly. Samuel knew this to be a result of the countless leaks she sprang during the turbulent night. Still looking back, Samuel saw the mist to the south building up into a dark, menacing cloud gathering in the east.

Hours earlier, that enormous mass pounded itself into their ship mercilessly. In fact, the captain had just gone below to rest after almost two days without sleep. Samuel could hardly imagine that any of the crew members were in better shape. A couple of times Samuel thought they were done for, but somehow they managed to survive. Even greater was their fortune that they found themselves only a long day’s journey from the friendly Port Raleigh. Yes, the storm was bad luck, he thought,
but it could have been much worse. After a couple more hours of headway, the mist began to clear in
the mid-morning sun as the San Fernando Channel edged closer. The jut of rocky mainland fell out into the ocean just short of the island chain stretching off to the north, marking an obvious path between the two land masses.

“Sail ho!”

“See if he can’t make out what type of ship, Mr. Gary,” came Samuel’s mechanical response. Thanks to Port Raleigh’s status as a busy harbor, it would be highly unlikely to sail through San Fernando
Channel without crossing spars with another ship. Though another ship at this point and in their condition might bring relief, Samuel felt annoyed more than anything. With Port Raleigh so close, the last thing he wanted was to stop and hail another ship. He would rather go straight to port for aid.

“They’ll be wantin’ to know how we weathered the storm, I shouldn’t wonder,” Mr. Gary noted, after passing along the proper message to the lookout. His lack of enthusiasm suggested that he did not look forward to frequent stops on the way into port either. 

“Looks like a merchantman, sir!” the lookout yelled from his perch in the crow’s nest.

By that time they had traveled enough that Samuel could see the ship forming on the horizon himself. He was somewhat puzzled. The ship headed northward, as if bearing straight for the Montes de Oca islands. There were no ports or settlements on any of the islands. Nor did the wind constitute a tack in that direction if the ship simply intended to exit the channel. No, she just ran a straight line between the islands and the mainland.

Mr. Gary came up to Samuel’s side, using his own spyglass to assess the situation. “Strange tack, sir.”

Before Samuel could reply, the two seamen observed the merchant ship come about.

“Changed her course, sir,” the lookout cried out. “Bearin’ her way toward us now.”

Samuel set down his spyglass disconcertedly. “Mr. Gary, retrieve the captain immediately.”

Mr. Gary hesitated. “But, sir, he said he was not to be disturbed.”

“Unless an emergency arose.”

“I would hardly call this an—”

“Mr. Gary, now.”

By the time the captain, somewhat frazzled, made his way to the quarterdeck, most of the crew had taken a heightened interest in the ship that now careened toward them with all sails set.

“What’s the problem?” the captain asked, his voice still hoarse.

“It’s the ship, sir,” Samuel pointed to the horizon. “When we first saw her, she was running a course straight for Montes de Oca from the mainland, then as soon as she saw us, she headed straight for us.”

The captain’s demeanor suddenly got serious. “Patrolling.”

“Yes, sir. That could mean one of two things.”

“Royal Navy or pirate. What’s the flag?”

“Should be in sight any moment, sir.”

The ensuing silence as the men awaited the verdict was only tainted by the continual sound of the bilge pumps, which the men had been working unceasingly since the storm.

“I can see her banner, sir,” the lookout cried down. “She’s flying . . . she’s flying . . . ”

“What?” Mr. Gary called up impatiently.

The tone of the lookout’s voice told them all they needed to know.

“Bring her about,” the captain barked, not even waiting to hear the rest of the lookout’s report. Samuel did not hesitate putting the orders into action. Although no one said anything, he could sense the deepening of the somber morale of a crew that had been through too much to be able to support another setback like this, especially with relief so close.

The turn about was sloppy and slow, not a result of an inept crew, but of a ship barely holding together in one piece. “Keep her tight against the wind,” the captain warned as he watched the pirates gaining ground on them after their sluggish maneuver. “As tight as she can handle. Those rogues won’t catch the Rosemary beating into the wind, especially not with a bulky piece of driftwood like that.” The captain was putting on a show. Samuel knew it. Most of the crew knew it. But
even if they did know it, at least it showed that the captain would not give up easily.

Samuel came up to the captain’s side and stood for a moment as they both stared off the back of the ship, monitoring their pursuers.

“Not many pirates would be brave enough to plug up San Fernando Channel,” Samuel noted. “It’s only a matter of time before Governor Rose catches word of their presence and sends someone after them from Port Raleigh.”

“Not many pirates indeed. I caught sight of the flag as we were coming about, Samuel,” the captain said quietly.

“You recognized it?”

The captain nodded. “It’s one of the Willards.”

Samuel’s heart sank. Impossible. The captain must be mistaken somehow. Even as he thought it, however, Samuel knew the captain could not mistake something that big. If he was right, then that meant that where there was one Willard, there was another close by. He gripped the taffrail. The infamous Willard Pirate Twins blocked their path into Port Raleigh.

They would have done better drowning in the storm.

©2017 Marty Reeder