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Chapter Three

The blasting of cannon fire jerks me from my sleep. Sand from my fingertips rubs into my eyes, making the blobs of daylight nearly unbearable. But my undershirt is still clean, and I wipe the itchy sand from my eyelashes.

Cannon fire rips across the sky and I push off my hands to stand, but the pain shooting from my wrist has me falling back to the hot granules just in time to see the tall pirate ship sailing past the shoreline. No lie! The hull is made from wood and grimy sails bend at the wind. Men run along the deck, but all I can see is their heads bobbing back and forth.

“Ahh!” My body feels heavy as I scurry across the sand to safety. “What is happening?”

My good hand clutches my tender wrist as I try to stand, but pain shoots from my ankle all the way to my hip. Sand shifts under my Igor limp as I hurry to the cliffs behind me. Never mind that I don’t know why I’m on a beach worrying about cannons. Today isn’t the day I want to die by pirates.

Cowering under the jagged rocks of the cliff, I pull up my drenched pant leg. My ankle is swollen to the size of a softball, but not broken. When I was in fourth grade, my friend Tom broke his leg on the soccer field. I nearly barfed at the bloody bone jutting through his skin. Nope, mine is in one piece, but tender.

Staring up at the steep wall kills any idea that I might climb it with a busted ankle and wrist. But in the distance, I see a kid running along the beach toward a set of steps that rises steeply to the top of the cliff. That’s my ticket.

Pain inches up my spine as I hobble toward the stairs. How hard did I fall? I feel as if I’ve been run over by a bus—twice. As soon as I see a drugstore, I’m buying some aspirin. I hope I can remember what it looks like. Mom usually handles all of that.

My gut sinks when I remember her coma-like behavior back at the house. I scan the beach. “Mom! Mom, are you here?”

The crashing waves reply like a chuckle of laughter at my idiocy. How could Mom be here if she wasn’t in the room? If the vortex had swallowed the entire house, there would be stacks of wood covering the beach.

One step up the slender stairs leads to the second, but I stop at the halfway mark. I take off my sock and stretch it as long as the cotton will go. It wraps a few times around my ankle and keeps it sturdy enough to crawl to the plane at the top of the stairs.

Tall grass with the greenest stems I’d ever seen blew in the wind. All the grass in our subdivision is cut so short that it’s a pale shade of green and isn’t even soft to lie on.

A fishy breeze blows from the shore and I look at the tide.

Ships bigger than my entire school building are docked next to tiny tug-style boats, and all of them have a coat of grime. Either this is the middle of a Disney Park built around that pirate movie, or time travel is a thing. Both sound like crazy ideas.

But the scream of a glass cat somewhere in the weeds has me running again.

Grass bends under my feet. The plinking of the cat’s legs rubbing against its side draws closer. Searing heat races from my ankle and my body falls to the ground, where I cover my head. Suddenly, the air in my lungs spews from my chest. My hands rip weeds from the dirt while I gasp like a goldfish on a countertop.

But the shattering of glass has me popping my head upward to the cat shards lying next to me. I flinch as a pair of hands pull my shoulders outward. Strong fingertips dig into my skin and hurt more than my throbbing ankle.

My breathing calms. Looking up, I find the kid from the beach holding a giant stick and smiling at me. His hair is frizzy and stiff as hay, but fits in well with his yellowish-brown teeth.

“Ahoy, kid!” he shouts before offering me his hand. “I stopped that nuisance from chasing you.”

Is he talking about the cat? Why isn’t he as scared as me?

“Why you so quiet? Did that cat get your tongue? Nod once for yes.”

“I have a tongue. Why wouldn’t I?”

“Sometimes the cats take them when you sleep, you know, so you can’t tell the secret. But you still got one! Talking is a lot easier to understand than nodding. My last friend had to take to drawing cause I didn’t understand his nodding. See, he was the kind of kid who nodded when he chewed—like this.” The kid jerks his head up and down in time with his jaw. “Like chewing with your mouth open in a sea-sick way!”

This kid has more confidence than the entire eighth-grade class. So, when he starts for the town, I follow him. I need answers.

“Lots of kids ain’t got tongues,” the kid said, turning to me. “Names Net.”

“Net? Is that short for Newton?”

“Short for nothing.”

“I’m a little lost,” I say. “My name is Hudson, and I’m new here—”

“I wouldn’t have guessed. Those clothes alone will earn you poop deck duty!” Net slaps me on the back. “You came from the swirl.”

“You know about the swirl—I mean vortex?”

“Where else would the cat come from?” Net says. “Marilla conjures them to scare humans. We’ve had to toss a few off the ship. They sink like rocks!” Net stops and pats my shoulder. “Don’t worry about the swirl thing. It’ll be our secret. Most everyone in town thinks the swirl is a myth—oh, except for the captain.”

“The captain?” I stop walking. This world might be a dream-like a mashup of the Renaissance Festival, Grandma’s boathouse, and that kid in first grade who stabbed his cheese with the straw to eat it.

Yea, this has to be a dream. But then the kid throws me a curveball.

“Captain Brian fished me from the water after the swirl dropped me from the sky. The crew took to calling me Net.” Net gives me a sideways look. “Why don’t you come and meet Captain Brian. Do you know how to make food? Last week, he made the cook walk the plank for making beans four days in a row. Even the strong winds couldn’t air out the berth!”

Dream or not, what choice do I have but to nod and follow him through the grass? But he’s quick and runs far ahead of me, carrying on about how annoying the glass cats are. I lose sight of him, but he races back and glares at me.

“What’s the holdup? Oh, your leg. The captain can fix that right up. Got a few extra pegs sitting around the deck. Just have to wipe off the mold.”

“What? No! My ankle will heal on its own!”

Net barrels over, snorting out a laugh. “Just joking! Pegs are for emergencies only. Come on, Hudson. We sail today, and Captain Brian hates to wait!”

 

 

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