My trudge back to the pirate ship is a long one. The wind whips sharply through the empty, cobblestone alleys, and I swear I can feel its cold bite against my skin. I know that can’t be true, it must be in my mind, but for a moment it’s almost as if I’m…
It’s Mary’s fault. I always get nostalgic after one of our meetings.
As I walk, I think about the body in the Thames. Mary hadn’t put much stock into it, but I can’t shake the strange feeling that is pulling at my ghostly gut. It’s that bloody pocket watch—pun intended.
Something about it reminds me of my not-so-recent trip to Wonderland with Lewis Carroll when he was just a boy. He fell down a mine shaft, although I believe he later changed it to a ‘rabbit’s hole’. There was a man at the bottom, rambling about caterpillars and a white hare in a petticoat. It was all very strange, really. The town’s physician speculated afterwards that the man had inhaled too much methane gas.
The strange man in the hole had had a pocket watch, too, and there was something inscribed on the inside, I am almost certain, but that is where my memory begins to fade.
I tug at the end of one of my curls thoughtfully as someone calls down to me from above. I startle, as much as ghosts can startle, and look up to realize I have made it to my ship.
The large vessel casts a shadow over its abandoned dock, and even the seagulls seem to know to steer clear. I can hear the caw-cawing above my head but I know they can’t see me. It’s a misconception that animals can see ghosts. Sometimes they can sense us, but even then it is only slightly, and they rarely care enough to pay much attention.
“Ahoy there.” A young boy smiles and I lift a hand in greeting. His dark hair is pushed out of his eyes with a red cloth tied around his head, and he has bright blue eyes the color of the ocean. He would be handsome, too, if it wasn’t for the nasty look in his eyes; a look that says he is up to no good in a seriously bad way.
I am too impatient to wait for the men to lower the gangplank, so I start to climb the Jacob’s ladder, stretching myself to reach the very last rung before climbing over the ledge and onto the deck.
No one but the boy seems to notice my arrival, and he comes to my side quickly.
I shouldn’t call him a boy, I think as he steps toward me. He hasn’t been a boy in quite some time. It is simply hard to think of him any other way. We were playmates once, now we are pirates and he is a man, not a boy.
And we are dead.
That has changed too.
“You had another meeting with her, didn’t you?” I can tell by the judgment in his voice that he is disappointed. He doesn’t like me interacting with the living.
“Yes, William, I did.”
He purses his lips, his nose wrinkling as though he smells something rotten. If we were alive, I would say the stench was him, but I know he is simply displeased that I used his full name.
“William is too proper,” he always says. “It’s not a respectable name for a pirate.”
He waits for me to give him more information, but I’m not going to. I step around him and begin walking toward my father’s cabin—the Captain’s quarters—that stems out from the main deck. I don’t move two feet before Will’s hand is on my arm, stopping me. I know what he is going to ask before he does. I know because he is a pirate and so am I. It is the same question I would have asked if the roles were reversed.
“How much gold has she paid us?”
“Not us,” I correct him, “me. And she hasn’t exactly paid yet.”
His face grows incredulous. “You mean you actually walked away without payment. What were you thinking, Rose? That is not the pirate’s way.”
I can’t tell if he’s more disappointed about me not getting the money or the fact that I broke code.
His lip curls.
No, it’s definitely the money.
“What will your father say?” This time his voice is low and if I didn’t know any better I would think he was concerned. It’s a good thing I do know better.
“It doesn’t matter what my father says. As long as I end up with the coins it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get them. We are dead after all. Time is…well…timeless.”
I know I sound bitter and it surprises even me. Will raises an eyebrow and I shake my head. I don’t want to talk about the reason behind my foul mood and I definitely don’t want to stick around and be taunted more about how the humans are corrupting my soul.
So instead, I push further toward the Captain’s cabin, nodding at the men as I pass them.
There’s Billy, one of the biggest guys on the ship, although I don’t know if he’s ever wielded anything more dangerous than a water bucket, a day in his life. He isn’t one for violence—although his stature is scary enough on its own that I don’t think anyone would threaten him outright for fear of a broken neck.
Then there’s Sal, Greasy Joe, and Manny. They’re our fighters. Their names are not very fear-inducing, but they are fantastic at what they do: pillaging, plundering, and sometimes murdering (but not in that order).
Zekial and his twin brother Haze lug a heavy piece of mast across the deck and Zek winks at me. They’re only three years older than I am and I can’t help but admire the muscles that flex in their arms. Their hair is flaxen with stripes of red, and each has a pair of stormy gray eyes that stands out in their faces like shadowy glass. At first I had found them beautiful, then mesmerizing. Now they are simply Zek and Haze.
“You gone to see that girl again?” Zek asks me, leaving Haze to continue whatever corrections they are supposed to be making to the mast. Unlike Will, his voice is not patronizing, he seems genuinely curious, and I nod briefly.
“You will be careful, won’t you?” Something flashes across his eyes, but it is too fleeting for me to tell for certain, and besides that, I am utterly exhausted from my meeting with Mary. I need to speak with my father, I need to figure out the importance of the pocket watch, I need to get information for that increasingly annoying assassin, and most of all, I need to get the gold I promised my father before he figures out the actual deal I made with Mary.
I reach his cabin and push the heavy oak door aside, stepping into the large space that I would know anywhere. There is a desk in the middle of the room, relatively un-littered with papers. Behind it sits a large man, his head bowed over a recent map of London, and he is using his pen to sketch something on its surface.
While he’s distracted, I take a moment to observe him. He has a thick, dark brown beard with streaks of gray running through his mustache. Laugh lines around his eyes make him seem less menacing, but his clothes—an ensemble I had at one time thought to be an unnecessary costume—make him appear all the more terrifying in their shredded form. He has a black jacket trimmed in crimson lace, faded from our years on the sea. Black breeches and worn, black leather boots make up his ensemble, the last piece—a tarnished gold buckle—crossing over his middle.
He is the ideal image of a pirate.
A dead pirate.
He finally notices my presence and looks up at me with shining eyes. I can tell he’s interested, he didn’t expect me back so soon.
I take a deep breath. This lie is going to have to be a good one if I want to convince him, though of what I’m still unsure.
I plaster a smile on my face as I say, “Hi, Daddy.”