Just for laughs, not to mention a big dose of humility, I’ve decided to share with you the first “book” I ever wrote. Warning: IT’S BAD. Amazingly awful. It breaks every rule of writing I have since learned and probably a few that no one has thought up yet. I don’t care. For some odd reason, I’m not ashamed of it.
I wrote it back in the late-80s, mostly while the kids took their naps. At some point I realized that in order to continue I was going to have to do some research. I was too busy for that. So I only wrote two chapters before life intervened and I set it aside. Be grateful. Be very grateful. It’s about pirates and privateers and set back around 1810 or so. I think. I will never finish this story. It is not a work in progress. There will never be any more to it than there is. Really.
Anyway, I’m very busy and pull-my-hair-out distracted with other things right now, so I’m only going to post a bit of it (I have to re-type the thing, it’s not on computer). I can’t even tell you how tempted I am to “fix” it, but I’m not going to. This is it in original form, formatting and everything. Try not to run screaming into the night after you read it, okay?
She struggled up as if through deep layers of sleep, fighting the unconsciousness that held her captive. She felt the rocking and swaying, the dip of the waves. I must be on Papa’s ship, she thought. Yes, that was it. Memories came to her of laying on the deck at night, looking up through the rigging at the stars, the warm breeze soothing her sun-baked skin. Papa sitting next to her, naming the constellations, teaching her how to navigate. Sharing their love of the sea.
She smiled at the happy memory, then frowned as another memory intruded. That was before the accident that took his leg, took away her childhood. Before the blood. She could smell it even now, after all the years that had passed since that awful day. The sweet, sickening smell of blood. Her papa’s blood. Sticky, wet and warm. Dear God, the smell. She stifled a groan and rolled over onto her stomach, hoping to recapture the earlier dream. But now her fingers could feel the stickiness; the smell made her gag and come more fully awake. Confused and disoriented, she lifted her head and it exploded with pain and stars; stars that mocked her dream, fast becoming nightmarish reality as memory tried to return.
It was dark as pitch, but she was suddenly very certain she was not on her papa’s ship, knew she was no longer a child. She stretched out her hands from her prone position, a morbid quest for the truth, and felt it again. The unmistakable stickiness of blood. And something else. Soft, yet hard, and cold. An arm. A matted clump of hair. A leg. Oh, dear God. No! She rose to all fours, retching from a combination of the pain in her head and the horror of her discovery. Crawling backwards across the splintered deck as the contents of her stomach left her, a blind flight away from the nightmare of her awakening. Away from the smell, real and remembered. She collapsed against an opposite rail and escaped to unconsciousness once again.
She awoke to sunshine and the cry of birds. She felt the warmth on her face, the sway of the ship beneath her, the pain in her head. Pain. Her eyes flew open as memory returned. Blinded at first by the morning sun, she struggled to sit up and leaned back against the rail. Shading her eyes, she surveyed the carnage around her and remembered.
They had heard the commotion on deck, men shouting, feet running. They were still a week away from port in Virginia, according to the captain, and the two women in the cramped cabin were puzzled by the unusual activity. Martha, whose curiosity had overcome the predictable mid-afternoon lethargy of the voyage, turned from looking out the porthole, her beloved, aged face ashen. “Pirates,” she whispered, “coming fast from the south.”
Not wanting to believe her, Dani ran to the opening to see for herself. “It’s Black John,” she said, after a tense silence. “I recognize his flag from Papa’s description.”
At the older woman’s gasp, she turned, her own golden complexion now ashen as well. For a frozen moment, both women remembered snatches of conversation, the telling of tales over tankards of ale, and prayed what they had heard was not true. Yet both knew, all the same, that it was.
“The man’s not human, e’s not. The way ‘e leaves them poor souls to rot on deck.”
“Aye, no captives, no survivors. But afeard to feed the fishes, ‘e is.”
“A meaner man I ne’er met. Ugly as sin, wi’ a soul to match.” This last from Dani’s father, who had met the man and survived the encounter, though he’d always refused to discuss it.
Feared for his vicious brutality and erratic behavior, the notorious pirate Black John was himself fearful and superstitious. Believing that casting dead bodies into the ocean would anger the demons of the deep and bring him bad lack, and as he had no use for the ships he plundered, he left the dead in a great bloody heap on the deck. Left them to rot and molder in the sun, until eventually even the birds would not feast on the remains. Other vessels coming upon such a death ship were left no choice but to fire upon the ship until it sank. No one ever boarded a death ship, fearful of the disease if surely carried.
Jarred into action by the thought of her papa, Dani ran to one of her trunks and began pulling out clothing, throwing dresses and petticoats to land where they may. Finding what she needed, she turned impatiently to Martha.
“Help me wi’ this dratted thing. Hurry.”
Pulling at the confining material, she turned her back to the woman who, with shaking fingers, helped her unbutton the dress.
“Megan Danielle McClellan, what are ye thinking to do? Surely ye cannot mean what I’m thinking ye are,” Martha protested, as she took in the familiar sight of breeches, shirt and leather vest.
Dani rounded on her with fierce determination blazing in her emerald eyes. “Martha, I have ta help them fight. This is’na a fighting ship, tis a bloody merchantman. Ye know I’m able, and God knows they’ll need all the help they can get.”
As she hastily finished dressing, the young woman silently cursed her father and his grand plans to send her off to America on this plodding hulk of a ship. His dreams of turning her into a fine lady were about to be dashed into the ocean, along with Captain Davis and all his cargo and crew. The words “for your own good” rang in her memory with mocking clarity, as did his insistence that she would be in good hands with his old friend, Tom Davis.
Knowing first-hand the stubborn nature of the girl, Martha bit back further comment. She knew the futility of argument once her young charge had made up her mind. She searched the girl’s brilliant green eyes for a sign of uncertainty or hesitation and saw only the determination and courage she had come to expect. She murmured a prayer as she quickly crossed herself, a prayer for Dani’s safety as well as her own.
“Yer father will never forgive me if anything happens to ye, Danielle.” Close to tears now, Martha whispered, “And I’d never forgive meself.”
Pretending not to hear, Dani finished pulling on her well-worn boots and jammed a knit cap over her newly-short auburn tresses, a result of her last desperate act of defiance aimed at changing her papa’s insistence that she undertake this ill-fated voyage. She remembered well how her papa’s bright blue eyes had darkened in anger, how he had finally shrugged and said, “Twill grow, lass. It changes nothing.” Turning back to the trunk, she rummaged through to the bottom and began to arm herself as Martha watched with round, frightened eyes. The slender young woman, who had moments before been exquisitely garbed in London’s latest fashions, now resembled a disheveled street ruffian.
In truth, Martha had thought the girl’s father had long since confiscated Dani’s weapons and more disreputable clothing. Nonetheless, she knew Robbie McClellan would be proud if he could see his daughter now. Aye, she thought with an inward wince, he’d be proud. He’d also be bloody furious and absolutely terrified.
Okay, that’s enough of that. Let me know what you think of my fledgling effort. Be nice. Oh, what the hell, be honest. I like to think I’ve improved a wee bit since then, but maybe I’m kidding myself. If you all think you can stand it, I might post more — yes, god help me, there is more — later in the week. Unless I get distracted by something shiny.