Mary is staring at us funny—no, not us—William. It’s as if she’s seen a ghost (or, well, another other ghost).
“P-p-pixie,” she mumbles, pointing to the empty space just over her right shoulder, and I narrow my eyes. A speechless Mary is something new, and I don’t plan to mess up my new, silent luck.
“Mary, William. William, Mary.” I gesture briefly between the two before another voice catches my attention and I spin back toward the mast of the ship that is now docked to ours. Men with bulging muscles and grim facial expressions toss ropes across the stern, but there is one gruff, bearded expression that sticks out from the rest of them.
It takes all of ten seconds for me to walk the nearest rope as if I were one of those performers in the circus that always travelled through Bristol Plaza in London—the one with the gypsy woman…
The thought nearly makes me lose my balance and I take a quick glance down at the dark waters below. It’s not as though I fear drowning (really), but the way I figure, since I became “half” alive, one can never be too careful. It doesn’t occur to me until I’ve landed cleanly on the deck of my father’s ship that the swirling vortex of seasickness which had earlier been immersed in an inner battle over my lunch, no longer exists. Oh well, the oddities in my life are no longer seeming so…odd.
Soon enough I’m stepping over the ship’s rail, bounding over the familiar rough wood planks and straight into the stiff shoulders of my father who—taken by surprise—slaps a thick hand against my back in acceptance of the sudden embrace.
“I think you have a bit of explaining to do,” my father growls, and I can feel his scowl on the back of my neck. I take a slow step back, refusing to meet his gaze, and instead tug at the sleeve of my new blouse, hoping he won’t notice the drastic change in ensemble.
What a ridiculous thought, of course he won’t. He is a pirate, not an etiquette expert, though I don’t suppose they have those anymore. An old, weather-worn governess with graying hair tied up into a thick bun at the base of her neck, and wrinkles like canyons spanning down the side of her neck.
No, etiquette is an art well-lost.
I look behind me to find Mary scrunched up against the steel wall of the ship, as far away from the railing as humanly possible. William hovers over her, his copper hair dipping into his face as he peers into hers, a curious eyebrow cocked upward on one side of his face.
“Is this the human you were talking about?” he calls over his shoulder.
“Mary,” I tell him, and he repeats the name, his lips curling up into a mischievous grin.
A gaping audience has appeared on the deck of the modern ship above us, no doubt ogling at the girl clearly talking to herself, although their attention seems to be less on Mary and more on…
Me, the girl whom they can see. The girl who, most likely, appears as though she is currently floating in mid-air.
“I’m a bit busy, Rose.” I can’t see her face because Will’s back is in the way, but as his body fades in and out of sight, the currents of the ghostdom fluctuating over his skin, I can see her expression of discomfort and surprise as William takes another step toward her. “Busy being stalked by your friend,” she tacks on to the end, and I make a quick maneuver to jump over both rails, landing solidly on the assassin’s boat, the dark boots I borrowed from Mary making a heavy clunking noise that startles Will into taking a step backward. Really, these modern breeches made of—what was it called? Denim?—are so much more practical than the layers of skirts I was forced to wear during the days of my piracy successes.
Rushing over to my anit-friend-kind-of-partner, I grip Mary’s arm tightly between my fingers and she lets out a breath that sounds more like a hiss, her eyes veering momentarily from William’s face (which is much too close to comfort for the both of us—my stomach cringes and I try to ignore it) to mine. “What?” she demands.
“The people are looking.” I gesture to the level above us where the crowed has swelled to a size of about eleven or so people, their eyes trained on Mary and I, and the empty space we were just talking to.
“What? What?” she shouts up at them. “You’ve never seen two people practicing acting and illusion simultaneously?”
Their stares narrow but the people say nothing. If it wouldn’t be odd, I think Mary would growl at them.
“This is a closed performance. Move along!”
The humans scurry off, mumbling to one another—probably about the two crazy girls that have somehow made it aboard their (now unfortunate) cross-Atlantic ship. I sigh, turning around so that my shoulder is interrupting the path between Mary and the ever-curiouser William.
“You’re right, she is a strange one,” he says, and I don’t think his smile could get any wider if he tried.
“Leave her be, and tell us what you’re doing here.”
Mary pinches my shoulder. “How about we start with who is he?”
“William.” William says, as if we hadn’t covered it already.
“Thank you for that,” Mary snaps, facing me head-on. “I’m talking about who is he to you.”
“William is a member of my father’s crew.”
“Father’s crew,” she repeats. It’s as if she cannot quite believe the words I’m saying, and she slowly turns until she can make out the other pirates who (including my father) have yet to say anything.
She points to the big man watching us from his side of the rail, his dark beard hovering beneath his face in greasy knots, and Mary scrunches her nose. “Father?”
“Father’s ship.” She gestures to the wooden vessel across from us.
“Good question, that’s what I was asking before you so rudely interrupted.”
She purses her lips together and William chuckles to himself, a sound that quickly cuts off when I shoot him a heated glare. “Why?” I ask, and he shrugs.
“Boredom can begin to play tricks on your mind after a while. We thought, why let our youngest out on an adventure, when we could do the pirate thing, and steal some of her fun. Besides, the ship has been in port long enough, she needs a bit of a hard ride, don’t you think?”
“Not particularly,” I snap. I notice his eyes trailing down to my blouse, the strangeness of my choice of garments, and I throw a light slap at his face, drawing his attention back to my eyes. “What else do you want?”
“Who says there’s something else?”
I cross my arms over my chest as Mary watches the dialogue with half-interest, half-vexation. “History,” I say, “what else do I need?”
“Proof?” He shrugs again.
“Fine.” He draws a deep breath, his hands plunging in to the depths of his trouser pockets. “There’s been a rumor in the London underground that a miscreant trio—and Elvis—were trying to find something, shall we say, unique? Or maybe imaginary is a better word for it. The way your father figured, if you could find it with a human, then who’s to say we couldn’t either? And once we do, who’s to stop us from taking over the ghostdom and living like kings. Dead kings, sure, but there are plenty of spoils in the ghost world that could satisfy anyone for eternity.”
“And what is it you believe we are looking for exactly?”
He smiles. “Your heart.”
“And what is so special to you about my heart?”
His smile turns something queer, as if he’s just tasted something ruefully bitter, but he forces the distaste away, returning his usual smirk to its rightful place. “Don’t you get it, little Rose? If finding your heart can make you human, then there’s a chance for all of us.”
My stomach drops again, and this time I think it might stay like that. I ask without wanting to know the answer: “A chance for what?”
His smile grows again until it’s that of the Cheshire Cat’s, broad and glinting in the sky. “To live again.”
Randy absently flips the page of his comic book, his eyes staring blankly at the page, though I doubt he is comprehending a single word of it. Mary said he’s been like this all day. I tug at the edge of my sleeve and take a step forward, clearing my throat.
He launches upward in surprise, the comic book falling to the floor with a loud smack, and he mumbles a curse to himself—though it’s not nearly quiet enough to go unheard.
“What do you want, um, Rose?”
“I have a favor to ask.”
“Mary’s not around. She went to see if the Captain might be able to be convinced to port somewhere more secluded than the edge of the New York populous.”
“Like where, a deserted island?”
His face appears unamused. “Knowing Mary, probably. So come back later when she’s back—”
“It’s you,” I say quickly. “The person I need a favor from is not Mary, it’s you. And I would rather you didn’t say anything to her about this meeting either.”
His eyebrows lift in mute curiosity, and I take that as my cue to continue.
“Has she told you about my father and—”
“Ex-boyfriend?” I shake my head, confused. “Are you talking about William?”
He huffs loudly, waving the question away. “Never mind, and yes, she has.”
“All right, good.”
“What’s your point?”
I tuck the tips of my fingers into the pockets of my trousers, refusing to meet his eyes as I talk. “My father wants to steal my heart.”
He frowns. “That’s creepy.”
“My actual heart,” I correct him, letting annoyance seep into the edge of my voice.
“Wow,” Randy’s voice is sarcastically impressed. “He sounds like a gem.”
“Yes, well, he’s—my father. Even if I tell him that I don’t want him here, he’ll simply follow from a distance until we figure out something—a way around him maybe—and locate my heart. And Frogg man. And the pixies.”
“Anything else?” he asks.
“No. Well, maybe. Anyways, that’s not the point. What I’m trying to say, is that I need someone of your skill set to put him off.”
“And what kind of a skill set do you need?”
“And what would I be doing exactly?”
“Really?” His voice is dry and rough, like sand. “And what would that be?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if it exists anymore.”
Randy crosses his arms, taking a brave step forward, and I startle ever-so-slightly. “So, let me get this straight. You want me to steal something—a ‘thing’ you’re not even sure still exits—from your father, a ghost pirate I cannot see?”
I give a brief nod.
“And how do you expect me to do this?”
I knew this question was coming, any intelligent person would ask it, but I still do not have an answer. At least, not one that would be useful to either one of us.
“I don’t know.”