Sorry for the delay this weekend! The Olympics and school have, you know, been sort of distracting.
Chapter Six: What’s Left of Me
“Don’t make me chew myself out of these ropes. I will do it.”
A wave of laughter, even more tumulus than the ocean propelling us to who-knows-where, rises from the group of pirates surrounding me with their crooked knives held close to their unbeating hearts.
“I don’t understand,” I continue. “How have you even tied me up like this? You’re ghosts. I’m alive. Shouldn’t you, like, not be able to touch me? How is this dead-zombie-pirate ship even holding my weight right now?” My eyes widen. “Oh my gosh. I’m not dead, am I? Please tell me I’m not dead—I haven’t tried all the Ben and Jerry’s flavors yet! Or seen my parents in over a year!” I glare. “Do you know how rude it would be to kill someone when she hasn’t had a chance to set foot in her own country, let alone see her bloody parents in over a year?”
“Fortunately for everyone involved, you’re still alive,” one of the burlier pirates says. He scratches the side of his head with his knife. It is an especially gnarled one, but not nearly as gnarled as his fat, stubby fingers.
“How is my being alive fortunate for you?” I pull against the ropes they’ve lashed me to a beam with below deck, among dilapidated hammocks and wilting wood boxes. The only light down here comes from dim lanterns that flicker like they’re in the last stages of a terminal disease. Drying salt makes my jeans and t-shirt cling to me like that diplomat stuck to the bottom of the tour bus last year.
The pirates laugh again, a chorus of hacking coughs and evil chuckles. The gnarled pirate’s mouth lifts into something that could be a grimace or a smile or any combination of the two, and growls, “It’ll be easier after we’re finished with you to dump you somewhere if you’re still alive.”
“Yeah, and what are you planning to do with me?” I snap. “Where’s Rose, anyway? I want to see her.” I flail against the Boy Scout-quality knots they’ve got around me, but they just tighten like Chinese handcuffs. My skin burns from all the zombie diseases the dumb things are probably covered in. “And back to my original query—how in PWNBEIBER’s name have you managed to capture me when you technically don’t exist?”
“Don’t look at us, Miss Hart. You have always been an unusual person, in the way you can see and interact with those of us who are no longer… well, I guess you could say ‘quite there.’ It seems as the barrier between the dead and the living weakens, whatever it is that allows you to interact with us strengthens.” These words come not from the gnarled pirate or any of his chuckling, buffoonish friends—no, instead they pass from the pasty lips of a man who can only be the captain, and therefore Rose’s dear dead daddy. His clothing is black, tattered, and in desperate need of a guest spot on What Not to Wear.
Oh, how I miss American television.
Everything about the man is prickly, from the hungry look in his eyes to the voluptuous but stringy brown and grey beard that coats the bottom half of his face, only slightly nicer than the beige rug monstrosity Randy kept in the living room of our London flat.
Rose’s father leers at me. “That is a truly distasteful birthmark you have there, Miss Hart.”
Rose has been so distracted by her seasickness and grumpiness lately, she hasn’t remembered to get all pukey from looking at my face and the massive heart-shaped mole on it. It’s been so long I’d nearly forgotten it was there.
I angle my chin up at him. “You’re one to talk about being distasteful, Pirate Man. Isn’t there soap in the ghost realm? You look like you haven’t cleaned that hobo beard of yours since the Squish attack.”
He grins, revealing teeth in even worse condition than his beard. “That’s because I haven’t.”
“Uck.” I press myself against the beam (and unfortunately into the zombie-ghost-pirate germs infesting it, although it’s probably still cleaner than that dude). “Disgusting. So are you going to let me see Rose now, or do you have her tied up too?”
“My daughter is not here,” the captain says. His dark eyes droop ever so slightly at the corners, which is a surprising show of sentiment for someone who, you know, tried forcing his daughter into marrying a vampire before subsequently getting her killed by flying squirrel-fish aliens. “She is back on my ship. William plucked her from the roiling waves, I believe, after that bleeding First Mate of mine staged a mutiny while your craft was distracted with that strange internal cannon fire. They traveled in the other direction.”
“That wasn’t cannon fire, Pirate Man. They were bombs.” I don’t know how much more I can take of uneducated ghosts, and no Rose here to help me deal with her pirate friends? Not good. “Wait, if we aren’t on your ship, and the ship I was traveling on blew up—what ship are we on?”
“Another ghost one. We called this one from the bottom of the ocean.”
“Oh, hurray.” I sigh. “What about Randy? Have you seen him? Super tall guy? Professional thief with more phobias than a puppy-sized elephant in a room of lion-sized mice?”
“I have no idea what or who you speak of,” he says. “Although that could be due to the fact that your comparison is illogical.”
I’m glad there isn’t a mirror in the room, because the look in my eyes must be murderous. Slowly, I say, “Tell me. Where Randy is.”
“I am unsure.” The captain shrugs. “At the least, he is not here. You were the only imbecile we dredged from the ocean today. If anything, he likely now sleeps in Davy Jones’s Locker.”
“Please tell me one of your crew is named Davy Jones and you guys have some massive, comfy lockers lying around somewhere.” As annoying as Randy is, the idea of him being dead is not a pleasant one. PWNBEIBER would be pissed, and I kind of need their support as I head back into the States. “Wait, did you say the other boat—the one with Rose on it—went in the other direction? As in back to Europe?”
The pirates burst into another round of hacking laughter. The gnarly one swipes merrily at the air with his knife.
“What?” My mouth puckers with disgust. “What is it? Did you all finally recognize the brilliance of my elephant-mice comment?”
“Miss Hart,” chuckles Rose’s father, “to which continent do you believe we are sailing?”
“North America.” I roll my eyes. “Duh. I’ll take ‘thank you’ for five hundred, Captain Obvious.”
The laughter rises to the point that it’s evident they aren’t laughing at my comment for the reasons they should be, despite my superior wit and articulation. Then again, my wit and articulation might just be too superior for them to understand in the first place.
“North America?” Rose’s father doubles over with the laughter. “Child, why would be travel to North America?” He rights himself, bearded cheeks still twitching. “No, we are currently on our way to South America. French Guiana to be exact.”
At “French Guiana,” the crew all turns to their left and spits. One mutters, “Filthy French.”
My blood runs so cold it’s a wonder I’m not as dead as everyone else in the room. The ghostly lanterns hanging from the ceiling flicker. “Why are we traveling to French Guiana?”
The crew turns and spits again. I shrink even further against the beam.
“Why,” says the gnarly pirate. “We’re searching for Rose’s heart, of course.”
The way he says it does not make it sound like they are searching for Rose’s heart for a PWNBEIBER-approved reason.
I shiver despite myself. Two of the less ugly of the pirates—they are mirror images of one another, strawberry blond and built despite years as zombie-ghosts—snort in unison.
“Oh, make room, you dolts,” someone says, and the zombie pirates part around me to reveal who just might be the biggest man I have ever seen, dead or alive. He unties my knots with deft fingers and an occasional, apologetic smile. “Excuse the other men,” he murmurs. “Without our dear Rosie, it seems we have forgotten how to treat a lady.”
I rub my chafed wrists, then cross my arms and scowl at the gentle (albeit sexist) giant. “Thanks for untying me and all, Hagrid’s Lesser Brother, but that was the rudest sentence anyone has ever uttered in my presence. Haven’t you heard of feminism?” I cock an eyebrow. “Let me guess, you invented high heels and bikinis too.”
“Binikis?” He frowns. “What is a binikis?”
“I give up.” I throw my hands toward the rotted ceiling. “Why do I even try?” I turn to the captain. “So, Oh Most Unbathed of Kidnappers, where are we right now? How long am I going to be stuck with you lot before you let me off in French Guinea Pig Land or whatever?”
After another group spit, he replies, “It should only be another hour or so.”
My jaw drops. “How is that possible? We were almost to the U.S. a couple hours ago.”
“Ghost ships do not need to travel the same as those of the living.”
I twirl a finger. “Whoop-de-doo. So can you at least leave me, like, at a town or something? Preferably a tourist hub so I don’t need to learn French between now and then.”
Yet another nasty spit. If they keep this up while they’re all dead (and thus unable to rehydrate), these pirates are going to end up shriveling up like a bunch of weapon-wielding raisins.
“Oh,” says Rose’s father. “We do not plan to release you once we reach land, Miss Hart. No, to the contrary, we need you.”
“For what?” I am ashamed to say that a little of my own spit flees the angry tilt of my lips.
“To lead us to my daughter’s heart. And as a sacrifice.”