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Chapter Seven

Plain city water from the kitchen faucet was never my favorite drink. If there were ever a choice, I’d drink iced tea before water―and I really hate the aftertaste of leaf juice. But being on this pirate ship, surrounded by salt water, I could down an entire gallon! No problem.

Net balances a tray with buttered bread as he walks up the stairs to the main deck. I’m carrying a mug of dirty, cloudy water for the captain. Net warned me not to steal a sip, but he shouldn’t worry. There’s no way I’m risking a stomach bug for thirst―even if water is scarce on a long voyage across the sea.

“Quick! Name the section that holds the maps and captain’s logs,” Net says, glancing at me.

“It is the…the…quarter dock?”

“Wa-Wa-Wah! Quarter-deck. You need to study more so you don’t stick out like a black and green thumb.”

“But I don’t plan on being here that long.”

Before Net reaches the door to the navigation room, he turns back to me. “You actually believe we’ll find another swirl? I wouldn’t still be here if it were easy.”

My gut sinks like a rock because Net is no dummy. He came from a time before the internet, knows all about pirating, and still hasn’t been able to return home. Does he have parents looking for him? My ears heat fast when I think about Mom in a panic, searching for me among the chaos of a blown-out ship house. Losing Dad, Grandpa, and now her only child, would make her crazy.

Net bangs on the ornately carved door, and Captain Brian’s stern voice yells, “I ain’t got all day!”

Captain Brian hunches over a table, wearing more layers of clothes than an Eskimo. My knees wobble the closer I move toward him and the brass buttons running down the front of his jacket. Pirates’ ships are missing one very important appliance―a washer. The stench of armpits in the room reminds me of the school locker room.

Net copies the lean of the captain and rubs his chin like an adult. “Ca the crew move quick enough to escape low tide?”

“Ay! That’s the trick,” Captain says, taking the mug from my hands and swigging it down.

“Is this where we’re going?” I ask.

“Coconut Island!” Captain says. “Been a long time gone, and no one will suspect us to be carrying the booty. We be home free!”

I’m about to set my eyes on real, bona fide pirate treasure, but all I can think about is the map from Grandma’s attic―the map I grabbed when I whooshed from the screaming vortex of water.

Wow, it’s been a weird kinda week…or month. Not sure which since my phone died.

“We be right on schedule!” Captain Brian says just as I slip back out the door. Deckhands are tying off ropes and securing barrels on the deck―all but Doc, who is throwing up his lunch with the rocking waves.

A gentle close of my room’s door keeps the men from prying. My tight drawer scrapes open. I unfold the map on the bed and trace the dotted lines that show a trading route. My breath catches in my lungs. “This is the exact map the captain has and we’re sailing the same route. But this is a map from the attic, hundreds of years in the future.”

Net barges into the room and slams the door. “What’s wrong with you? You can’t just leave when the captain is talking. The plank’s close to our room!”

“Look at this,” I say, sliding the map along the wool blanket.

Net looks over the markings, moving closer to the yellowed parchment. His cheeks turn red and not from too much sun, either. “You pilfered this from the captain!”

“No. It was in my grandma’s house. I grabbed it and a pen before I whooshed through space and time.”

“Why would a grandma have an old map, and why did you grab it? You should have grabbed something to keep you in the room, like a column or windowsill.”

“How was I to know I’d be sucked into a pirate ship world? That never happens in real life.”

A big sigh and Net flops to his bed across from mine, tossing and catching a wooden ball. “Did your grandma collect maps?”

“Not that I remember. More like cat stuff.”

“Was it a gift or something?”

“My grandparents lived in a boat-shaped house with a gangplank and glass cats that wanted to eat me. Anything is possible, I guess.”

“Dang.” Net rubs his already frizzy hair flat, but it pops back into place. “You should put that thing away. We have to get back to work. A hungry crew is an angry crew.”

Several hours pass as me and Net finish making another boiled stew with questionable ingredients that look half rotten. Stiff fibers of a rag clear my sweaty forehead just as the ship lurches to a stop. “What was that?”

Net lays down his knife and motions for me to follow him without uttering a single word. I’m scared stiff―like my knees forget how to bend as we walk up the stairs to the main deck.

Crew members focus all their attention on a thick braided rope slipping across the decking. Tall cylinders of metal, secured with bolts, guide the rope over the port side, saving the men from some severe rope burn. But the speeding rope jerks to a stop, and the ship drifts in the waves. Several men, including the captain, peer over the ship’s side at the water.

“Hoorah!” bursts from the exhausted men loading their guns and what looks to be messenger bags.

“It’s time,” Net says to me. “We need to load a boat and sail for the island. Cooks always need fresh supplies.”

“I’m good here, thanks.”

“Crew members never turn down a chance to go ashore. NEVER. People who do are considered a bad omen and left behind―left to fight the low tide monsters all by their lonesome.”

Net has a certain way with words that get other people to do his bidding. He’d have made a great politician.

Boats fill quickly with pirates, each one dirtier than the one before. Me and Net hop into the last two seats, and the crew nods their approval, settling my fear of swimming with the fishes.

A man as big as the Hulk rows the packed boat toward the sandy beach. It’s eerily free of parents hiding under umbrellas and kids making sandcastles. I guess vacations aren’t a thing for pirate families.

“He’s got the goods!” a pirate with a telescope yells to the others in the boat. “This will be a quick job.”

Leaning around the men’s giant heads shows five or six large mounds of coconuts piled near the shore. “You weren’t lying about the coconuts?”

“I ain’t a liar.”

“Not saying you are. It just seems weird to travel so far for coconuts. They’re all hairy and don’t even taste good.”

“Ha! Just wait till you’ve been here a few seasons. No cake or twinkies―only the sweet milk of the coconut.”

Waves crash on the shoreline, pushing the small dinghy closer to the sandy white shore. The boat rocks when the Hulk splashes into the water and pulls the nose of the boat toward land. “Get to it, boys.”

Giddy crew members stomp to the first pile and grab an arm full of coconuts. Me and Net only carry two at a time and still struggle across the sand to drop them into the boat. My newly recovered ankle is hurting pretty bad, but I’m keeping that to myself.

Men with full arms walk straight toward the boat that sinks a little with each new coconut. I roll a second fruit into my free palm when a sparkle catches my eye. I drop everything and cradle the gold lion head in my shaky hands. “What is this?”

“Put that down! You can’t touch it,” Net says. “The crew hides the treasure. If they see you holding it,” he drags his finger across his neck.

“But I thought you guys just shipped food and stuff.”

“So we can hide the treasure under them! We should be done in a few hours, and then we have to raise the anchor. Can you keep from getting us killed for that long?”

“Raising an anchor should be quick, right?”

“Naw!” Net laughs. “You remind me of myself when I first got here! It’s kinda embarrassing. Raising an anchor can take hours of hard work to beat the low tide.”

“What is all the worry about the low tide? If we get stuck, can’t we just wait for the high tide, then sail away?”

“Low tide reveals the hidden places along the coast―places no man has a right to live and speak about. Treasure ain’t worth nothing if you’re dead.”

“Why can’t you tell me what will happen?”

“How do you describe horror so beautiful that you can’t pull your eyes away? If we’re stuck in the low tide, we best be sitting far inland and on the top of a coconut tree. A low tide lagoon is no place for any life-loving pirate.”