SHIPWRECK TALES OF THE MAGNIFICENT KIND

My idea is to share first version short stories (with all of my ugly warty mistakes). Then show subsequent edits…

 

SHIPWRECK TALES OF THE MAGNIFICENT KIND (2000 words)

 

Three types of people roamed the world: those who trusted numbers and those who didn’t.

Humor was supposed to keep Martin from worrying about tomorrow’s trip, but as he ascended exactly eight steps toward the old Heritage Library, his thoughts were bombarded with visions of planes crashing and ships sinking.

At the top of the stairs, six columns rose to support a triangular recess that housed four statues of people reading books. He walked between the center columns and approached the mammoth double doors.

Eight, six, four, two.

The sequence slowed his thoughts, bringing a sense of calm. He knew exactly when it all started––six years and twenty-three days ago, when the cat clawed his arm. Then, Dad gave him a Rubik’s Cube and he found turning the edges over and again melted the tension he carried.

As Martin gave the doorknocker a few whacks, sadness descended. A place so important shouldn’t be leveled into a pile of rubble.

‘Life isn’t always fair,’ Ms. Banks once said.

But life was only unfair because people made it unfair. And when that happened, something had to be done.

The door groaned open.

A tingle rushed down Martin’s arms. This was where he belonged––at the library, with the nicest person in the world.

With her white hair, dark skin, and wrinkles, he sometimes tried to imagine what Ms. Banks looked like when she became Pennsylvania’s first black librarian.

“All right, child,” she said, looking over her glasses, “come on now.”

“Forty-eight years, one-hundred and­­––”

“Twelve days,” she finished. “I’ll never have to worry about how long I’ve been here, will I?”

“It’s just…” He was about to mention the library’s closing, but remembered how her eyes watered the last time.

Martin entered to the echo of his own steps pattering against the marble, and soaring three cavernous levels, each containing twenty-four rows of books.

He stopped and inhaled, taking in the old paper and wood smells. Despite never wanting the sights or smells to go away, if the plan didn’t go perfectly, the greedy land developers would have their way.

Ms. Banks shut the door. “I imagine what’s his name will be here soon?”

Martin smiled. “You know his name.”

“Unfortunately.”

She was referring to his best (and only) friend, Romeo. It didn’t seem like it, but secretly Ms. Banks liked Romeo.

Ms. Banks walked to the other side of counter. On the wall behind her, each passing day on the calendar had been marked with red X––fifty-four days until the library closed.

She tried to sound positive, but her face seemed to get a little longer each day.

Martin neared his usual table and set his backpack atop.

“So, tomorrow’s the big day,” Ms. Banks said. “The plane, the ship, the island. How wonderful.”

He sat. “Yeah.”

“Your parents are so proud you’re going. It’s a giant leap.”

So everyone said, including his therapist, who’d arrived at the theory that his aversion to people and germs, and everything, was somehow related to the cat attack, and the ensuing teasing. After that, he’d retreated inward, and toward books.

Martin dug into his backpack and removed two leather-bound books and a flier, which he straightened.

 

GATES EXPEDITION

Join me on the Mary Rose, where we’ll sail the seas and islands. Learn what it takes to crew a vessel like they did centuries ago.

 

Of the masses who’d entered Gates’s contest (not that he’d entered, but his parents had), it wasn’t just crazy that he and Romeo were two of among fifty winners, but illogical––one in a million. But that’s what happened.

At first, the thought of being confined to a ship with loud noises, and putrid smells, and sharks…it was a NO GO.

Now, he had to go. The library depended on it.

Ms. Banks scanned another book for reshelving.

With how she’d been like a second mother, he owed going to her too. He might have hated how Ms. Banks and his parents ganged up on him to break out of his shell, but he understood. As far as the expedition, they didn’t need to know why he was really going––he was going to find the treasure.

He opened one of the books, releasing the faint smell of a campfire––remnants from when the ancient book survived a fire.

The door burst open, rebounding off the stopper.

Romeo strutted in like he wasn’t the smallest sixth grader.

“Yo, yo!”

“Library voice,” Ms. Banks said.

“But no one’s here, Ms. B.”

She cocked her head and swatted him away with a scornful look.

“I got you, Ms. B,” Romeo said. “Library voice.”

Romeo’s plopped down opposite Martin and nodded at the book.

“Everything good?”

Martin nodded as he turned the page, revealing the drawing of an island. He traced a path with his finger, past buildings, through trees, and stopped at an X.

Romeo beamed. “I hope Tramble was right.”

“He was.”

His old relative wouldn’t have done all that research for nothing. The books had been willed down for generations, but as time slugged on, people must’ve just assumed the stories were fairytales. They weren’t. With the help of Google, he and Romeo had located the horseshoe-shaped island, and verified the exact location of the burial.

It all made sense.

He’d brave his fears and find courage, all to save the library.

 

The next morning, after a round of tearful goodbyes, a white-knuckle plane ride to Lisbon, and a night in a hotel where everything was twice as small as in the U.S., the bus took Martin, Romeo, and the load of contestant winners to the bay.

Exiting the bus, Martin squinted into the sun. Thick air clung to his skin, bringing with it the urge to shower. As he rolled his suitcase alongside everyone, the wheels thundered over the cobblestone.

Then, at the end of the dock––the Mary Roses’ three masts stabbed skyward. Sails hung from each of the dozens of cross beams. Between the masts, a cobweb of ropes spanned every direction. As he neared, the smell of oak varnish called the library­­.

High up, two-dozen pirates lined the rail of the Mary Rose.

He was back in time.

“That’s sweet,” Romeo said.

A tall, shadowy figure appeared at the top of the ramp. The broad-shouldered man made his way down, pounding the wood with his heels. The buttons on his long coat shimmered. Upon reaching the dock, he removed his pointy pirate hat.

“Todd Gates,” Romeo whispered. “But a little dramatic…don’t cha think?”

After he’d sold his VR company for billions, Gates decided to follow his passion for ships. Martin’s dad said they went to the same college, but Dad hadn’t produced one picture.

“Welcome to the Mary Rose,” Gates said with an outstretched hand.

The crowd clapped.

“Everything you hear and see will be authentic to our past. There is no London or Philadelphia. No iPads or electricity or Star Wars.” He squinted down on everyone. “You’ll eat and work like our crew. My word is the word of…” He peered at the sky, then scanned the crowd. “From this moment on, there is no real world.”

One of the chaperones raised his hand. “Do you have medical staff?”

“I know CPR,” Todd growled. “I can demonstrate…on you!”

The man pumped his hands and retreated. “No, that’s all right.”

Everyone laughed.

“Then, let’s go!”

 

That night, in the mess hall, under the soft light of hanging lanterns, the crew sang and stomped their feet. A pirate woman played the fiddle and a pirate man hammered on the crate he squatted over.

 

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest

Drink and the devil had done for the rest

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

 

The floor shook, rattling Martin’s jaw. And for some reason, he didn’t want to escape.

Four of the crew blasted through the galley door carrying fistfuls of mugs. A pirate approached Martin’s table and slammed the mugs down, galloping foam over the edge.

“Arrr…drink up,” the pirate said.

They did. It was root beer.

One of the young female pirates spun across the floor as her dress twirled. She trotted over to him and Romeo, and held out her hands.

Martin stiffened. He had less rhythm than a gimp horse, according to his brother.

But the girl smiled, winked, and grabbed his hand, then Romeo’s, skipped them onto the dance floor.

Martin’s shoes felt like two bricks, but with everyone laughing and singing, it seemed no one was paying attention to how clumsy he looked.

A sense of belonging struck. He didn’t know any of the crew, but it felt like he did. With all he’d learned about ships and pirates…he was meant for this.

 

The next day, the Mary Rose sailed alongside an island. From the rail, Martin saw palm trees covering every inch of ground. Trees fronds bristled, giving the island a quality of movement.

Pirate’s Cove was supposed to have buildings, and a path to the treasure, but there were only trees.

Maybe they’d read the clues wrong.

Everyone watched the shore, waiting for signs of life.

A drum pulsed, faintly.

“Do you hear that?” Romeo said.

“Yeah.”

On the land, nestled into the trees on either side of the jutting dock, a dozen wood structures dotted the coast.

The beat grew. Then, violins and a tambourine joined. A song lifted.

A bearded man sat on the window sill of a shanty, with his feet dangling outside. A woman pirate lay in a hammock, blowing on a jug, making music. Another woman scratched on an instrument with a long spoon.

And they sang.

 

Yo-Ho haul together, hoist the colors high

Heave-ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die

 

“This kills Pirates of the Caribbean,” Romeo said. “Aren’t you hyped? It isn’t all about treasure.”

“It’s incredible,” Martin said, feeling the music beat with his heart. He wanted to stay forever.

The Mary Rose docked.

Gates strolled toward the ramp and stood tall.

“Pirate’s Cove is my gift to you! But, be careful, it is dangerous. Off ya go!”

Martin and Romeo walked down the dock with the others. With the horizon melting into an array of oranges and yellows, they was maybe a few hours of sunlight left to find the treasure.

Martin dug into his pocket for the map. Beyond the town, down the path, through the trees…

“You got any rum,” someone barked.

A withered man in soiled clothes stalked closer.

Martin retreated.

The old man pursued, grabbed Martin, and patted him down.

“I know you got something.”

Martin’s nerves jolted. This wasn’t real though. He pushed against the feelings and they didn’t overwhelm him. He breathed––a small victory.

Romeo shoved the man back. “All right, Mr. Handsy. Keep to yer self. Arrr! We don’t have any rum, and you know it.”

The man looked Romeo over. “Fiesty, this one.”

They squirmed past.

The music thumped louder.

Out front of the first shack, two couples danced arm-in-arm. They changed partners, round and round, stomping and hooting.

Martin and Romeo walked on the dirt path between several shacks that formed a small town. A sign over a doorway read Whistin’ Tavern. High notes of a piano danced from inside, fighting the boisterous song from outside.

They passed several more structures: Stuck Pig, Alice’s Clothier, Serpant’s Kiss.

Martin approached the Serpant’s Kiss. Inside, a pirate was airbrushing a dragon onto a kid.

“That’s sick,” Romeo said.

“We don’t have time,” Martin said. “Plus, you’ll get ink poisoning.” Upon registering Romeo frown, he added, “Just thinking out loud.”

They continued down the path and into a thicket of palms. The music faded.

Martin brought out the map.

“Take the first left, then count ninety-nine paces. Then, right, between two crooked palms. After fifty-four paces we’ll see a clearing.”

“These numbers got you all happy.”

They followed the map, walking, counting. Passing two s-shaped trees, they reached a circular clearing.

This was it.

Under the dirt, the treasure was waiting. The library, as well as Ms. Banks’s job, would be saved.

Martin’s heart flowed with pride.

They charged the ground and dug.

Martin was soon covered in dirt, and he didn’t care.

Romeo grabbed a stick and hurled dirt. Then, a clunk.

“We found it!” Romeo said.

They dig around the edges and lifted a small wooden chest.

Martin looked down on it. His arms tingled with anticipation. Months of studying and hoping had come to this.

He knelt and lifted the top.

And his heart left his body. There was nothing––nothing except a letter.

Someone had taken the treasure.

He read the note.

 

Martin,

We hope you’re enjoying the journey. Please don’t be terribly disappointed that there is no treasure––at least none made of gold. There’s something more valuable. It is experience, brought about from our love. You’re growing leaps and bounds. Make the most of it.

Love, Mom. Dad. Ms. Banks.

P.S.-The library isn’t going anywhere.