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Chapter Six

Steam from the boiling pot in the depths of the pirate ship is only making the humidity worse. Net keeps calling this place the bilge, but I’d call it a sewer because it smells like one. And to make matters worse, we’re cooking food for the entire crew in this filth. Mom would definitely want to speak to the captain about these unsanitary conditions.

Net lifts a glass jar from a crooked shelf, pulls the cork plug, and grabs a handful of dried green leaves from inside, tossing them into the pot like a magician creating a rabbit out of thin air. Maybe he was hoping for a furry critter because the dried crust of a lob he called beef smelled awful.

“That’s a lot of greens,” I say. “When Mom uses that much, it tastes like tree bark.”

“Your mom never had these kinda ingredients to work with. Trust me. The herbs will make this meal tolerable.”

Hand carved bowls slide across the worktable as the ship rocks back and forth with the waves. Me and Net fight the rocking to load each and carry them on a tray up the stairs to the deck. Crew members sitting on crates and bundles of ropes nod as they take a bowl from the tray.

“Listen up, you barnacles!” Captain Brian yells as he steps from his cabin. “Poseidon has blessed us with speed, but the tide waits for no pirate.”

“Are you suggestin’ we drop anchor and wait out the night?” John, the cannon artisan, asks. “Last time we did, those French Privateers raided us. I say not again. Curse the tide! Treasure comes first.”

Cheers and howls spurt from the chill crew between sips of their murky stew. Others, too merry in their agreement, screech when their broth splashes on their legs.

Net raises his fist and growls. I have to ask. “What are they cheering for?”

“They’re voting on whether they want to sail on Coconut Island tonight or wait till sunrise.”

“What’s the difference? We could set up tents and camp on the island. Being on land beats the rickety rocking of this ship.”

Net shushes me as the captain moves into the center of the crew, raising his voice over the slurping of stew.

“Those wantin’ to wait, say I.” Captain nods at the reaching hands. Trust me when I say those guys could use a stick of deodorant.

“And those wantin’ to make land now?” Arms shot into the air. Captain Brian’s wide grin shows off his missing teeth. “Then it be settled. We make land today!”

“But half those guys didn’t sign the Articles!” A small man with matted hair says. “Their votes don’t count for nothing.”

Crew members whisper conspiracy theories to each other. Eyebrows raise, waggle, and stretch like caterpillars in a circus act. Net drags me back to the starboard gangway as Captain Brian waves for the quartermaster, who comes scurrying from behind. The man pulls a rolled-up document from his fancy gold buttoned vest and lays it on a crate. “Would anyone like to sign now?”

“I think not!” says the non-member called Doc. “This crew is a merchant ship. You’re still only glorified grocers, no matter how much you parade around like pirates. When we reach port, I’m contacting the mayor!”

“What’s his deal?” I ask Net.

“Oh, well, Doc isn’t really part of the crew. We took him cause we needed a surgeon. Fingers and ropes don’t always agree. And when a finger grows green, a surgeon comes in handy.”

“Are you saying you kidnapped him?”

“Sorta,” Net shrugs off the comment. “He will get a little cut of the money.”

That single statement kicks my sweat glands into high gear. How many of these pirates were here against their will? Have I been kidnapped? I knew it! Net is working for them. Salty beads of sweat drip from my eyebrow.

Pirates scarf down the rest of their food and wipe their faces with their shirt collars, scattering to their positions on the deck. Thick, moldy ropes slide through the guides faster than a game of tug-of-war and send the sails upward while another group ties the ends to massive hooks mounted to the deck.

Net takes to gathering the bowls laying here and there. I want to help, but my stomach lurches as the wind catches the sails and the boat jumps forward.
“Grab the mast post!” Net yells while he struggles to grab it himself.

The salty breeze races past my ears like a warm afternoon at the beach. My crusty lips crack into a smile, barely a hint of pain from my sun-scorched cheeks.

Really, being on a pirate ship isn’t so bad. Net says it’s easier if you think of it as a game. Draw the right card and get safe passage to the island or roll the dice for extra food rations. He seems to like a good board game. Probably cause they didn’t have video games where he’s from.

Men hustling on the deck and climbing rope ladders is like a scene from a movie―only a special showing―one that casts me as the star! My imagination gets lost in the pirates constant shouting and the splashing of waves against the hull, but Net yells from the hatch. “Get that last bowl and go back to the bilge!”

“But this is so cool! Way better than that ride at Disney.”

My grip on the bowls loosen as Doc stands from the crate on the starboard side. The hair sprouting from the mole on his queasy gray cheek becomes clearer as he stumbles toward me, scanning my clothes and stopping at my sneakers. “Who is your souter?”

The curious man reaches out to touch the foam soles of my sneakers. Nope. My attempt to run slams me into a short, wooly bearded man with an envious glare. “Go on then. Answer the man, you belligerent cook!”

“Well, see…I don’t…” Heat surges through my neck and face like every time a teacher interrogated me about my missing homework. Words get stuck on my dry tongue.

“How would he know who made his shoes?” Net asks, marching to my side. “A Dutch sailor traded them for a pig.”

“A pig?” Doc asks. “Why would you trade a week’s worth of food for such inefficient footwear?”

“He’s new to the crew.” Net grabs my arm, and we hurry to the hatch. “I’ll set him right about trading on the high seas.”

“I should hope so,” Doc says. “We can’t have him trading away our food supplies for useless junk. None of us will survive.”

Net and I sprint back to the murky waters of the bilge, hurrying from the growing curiosity about my sneakers. This family fun game just became a horror movie!

“I knew it. These shoes are going to get me killed.”

Net stacks the bowls in the bucket of cold water and submerges a rag made of an old shirt. “Naw. You worry too much. The crew has more important things to do than be bothered by your shoes. I bet they’ve already forgotten about it.”

So, what else can I do but believe him? Jumping overboard will make me lunch for sea monsters and hiding under my bed will only starve me out.

Net hands me a wet bowl and I wipe the small puddle of water in the bottom. “How long till we reach Coconut Island?”

“A few hours from now. When we get there, every person on the ship helps load.”

“Even the captain?”

“Yep. Because when the low tide comes, we best be off that island, or it’s game over.”

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