It takes me a moment to realize my name (and not Mary’s) has escaped from the man’s lips. Rose, he definitely said Rose.
“Y-yes,” I stammer as Randy’s eyes nearly bug out of his head.
“Wait,” the boy says incredulously. “Can everyone see her but me?”
“We’ve been waiting for quite some time.” Booker Smith smiles widely and I grimace, unsure what to do next. He doesn’t seem the type to see ghosts, usually the people are insane or they’ve taken enough drugs that the veil between the worlds has shriveled up and disappeared. And then there’s Mary.
“I’m sorry, but h-how can you see me right now?”
“Ah.” The man claps his hands together. “Right, sorry. I would have made proper introductions earlier, it’s only that my secretary, Margerie, doesn’t know…” He trails off, as if that little explanation has been enough.
“Doesn’t know what?” Mary asks, her voice sharp. She’s giving me a look, as if I possibly know what’s going on. She probably thinks I’ve lied to her about something. At least, that’s probably what I would be thinking if the roles were reversed. Pirates don’t trust easily.
We all freeze, and Mary and Randy exchange a confused look.
“Zombies?” Randy asked. “Not ghosts?”
The man laughs. “Ghosts? There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“But there’s such a thing as an invisible zombie—?” Mary elbows Randy in the ribs and he shuts up with an oomph.
“What?” The man looks at all three of us, confusion furrowing his brow, and Mary jumps in quickly before he realizes what’s just been exchanged.
“So how do you know our Rose, here?” She smiles widely, but I can see the fiery bite in her eyes. She doesn’t like this man, and she’s uncomfortable not having the upper hand.
“Oh, yes. I’m a bit of a historian buff myself.” He grins like that’s supposed to mean something to us. When he realizes it doesn’t, he clears his throat and continues. “I have done my fair share of research over the years with a special interest in pirates during the mid to late eighteenth century.”
Mary’s eyes narrow at me and I shrug as if to say: What did I do?
“In the midst of my thesis paper for grad school, I came across a piece of strange information about several pirate ships that were fallen due to a strange, isolated plague of some kind. I thought this was strange, seeing as how—at the time—things were rarely able to be isolated, so I looked into it even more.
“One ship in particular, the Jolly Reaper, kept coming to my attention. It was said that she mysteriously vanished off the coast of Spain one summer, never to be heard from again. Only, that wasn’t quite the case. It seems that every so often, there is a report of a ship that could be her twin, and a crew made of dead men, ragged and deranged. Through university connections, I was able to contact a museum in Almería, Spain, that housed the ship’s manifest. Obviously it has faded over the years and much of the names were forged, seeing as how it was a pirate ship and all, but there were two names that intrigued me most: Captain Jesworth Delleray, and his lovely daughter Rosalina.”
My stomach does a ghostly flip, and it feels for a moment as if it, too, might fall out of my body, along with my missing heart.
“What do you know about my father?” I ask.
“Not as much as I’d like. In fact, had it been your father, I doubt I would have recognized him. But you—” He shuffles to the other side of his desk, pulling out a ring of keys from his inner pocket and shifting through them until he finds the one he wants. He quickly inserts it into a thin drawer just below the top of his desk, and the lock unlatches with a click. From inside, he slips out a piece of paper with a single photocopy on the front. “I requested information from that same museum, but they didn’t have much. Only a few artifacts from the ship—though I’ve come to believe they’re from a different ship entirely—and this.” He tries to pass the paper to me, and I just look at him. “Oh, right.” He gives out a startled laugh, passing the sheet to Mary who looks down at it, jaw dropping open.
“What is it?” I ask.
She turns it so that I can see. “It’s you.”
My hair is different, shorter, and I’m wearing a light blue dress that hugs neatly at my waist, revealing little skin except for a short circle around my neck. I have a soft expression, though the corners of my mouth are slightly pinched, and I laugh. Mary turns to me, startled.
“What’s she saying?” Randy asks, clearly agitated that he is the only one not able to participate.
Mary ignores him, gesturing for me to explain myself.
“I remember when this picture was taken.”
Smith squeals with delight, and we both turn angry stares on him. “Sorry,” he says. “Continue.”
“My mum was determined to have something to remember me by before she married me off. The engagement was already set for the summer, and she said she just couldn’t stand the thought of not having her daughter in the house with her, so she requested I get a portrait made.”
“But your mum—mom—is not a ghost, is she?”
I shake my head. “No, she died a few days before the wedding. My father had just gone into pirating at that time and I begged him to take me with him. Marriage… It just wasn’t what I wanted. It was my mother’s dream. After she died, there was no reason to continue.”
“Who were you going to marry?” Randy asks and Mary jams her heel into his instep. She must have been relating my words as I spoke.
“A boy named Sebastian,” I say.
“Was he nice?” Randy presses.
“I don’t know,” there’s ice in my voice now. “I hardly knew him.”
“Mr. Book-man, Sir,” Mary says, interrupting her friend’s interrogation of me. “You said you found out about Rose and her father, but not how you knew about the zombies.”
“Ah, yes.” He takes the picture back from Mary who reluctantly hands it over. “I was curious about that for many, many years. In fact, I almost gave up because of that little fact. Where did the ship go? And how could it have been seen hundreds of years later looking exactly the same? Except for the living dead part. I logged onto a couple of forums, just to see if there were any other fanatics like myself who thought this question warranted an answer. Sure enough, I found a few, but their suggestions were a little outrageous.”
Mary and Randy exchange another look that says, I’ll bet.
He replaces the image in his desk drawer, reaching for another piece of parchment tucked behind it. “Then, one day, I received this in the mail.” He passes it to Mary.
“What is this?” she demands, flipping it over to look at its other side.
“What’s it say?” I ask.
She takes a step closer to me so that I can read over her shoulder. The paper is empty except for three words inscribed in beautiful gold ink on the center of the page.Find the King.