It was Monday. a very, very hot Monday, the last one before school started. I didn’t see why it would be so hot in September, but the weather didn’t seem to care whether or not it was autumn now. Every window in the house was open, every fan was turned to ‘high’. I had taken a book and flopped down onto the sofa, because it was far too hot to be moving about. I was a Shadow Kougra, anyway, a creature of the night, definitely not meant to be out in the sun.
“Charlie, I’m trusting you to watch Alice while I get some groceries. You can look after her, right? I’ll be back at three to start dinner.”
I looked up from my book and gave my owner, Liz, a slight nod, then immediately bent my head again. Seconds later I heard the door slam. I settled deeper into the soft lemon-and-lime striped sofa, wishing I had a smoothie.
I blinked and reluctantly peered over the top of my book. My little sister, Alice, was sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, watching me.
“Charlie, is it true the world is round?”
“Yes,” I answered, annoyed that she would bother me for such a stupid question. “Now be quiet. I’m trying to read a book.” For a few blessed seconds, all was silence as I followed the brave orange Kougra, Jasmine, into the ruins of an ancient tomb. Then...
“What?” I snapped. Jasmine was just about to open a door, shut for centuries. And it was far too hot for talking.
“Charlie, I’m bored,” Alice said. She popped a large Kougra paw into her mouth and watched me with large blue eyes.
“Find something to do then,” I said irritably. I opened my book again, but before my eyes could even find my place, Alice said:
“Charlie, I wish we could do something.”
I looked at my Baby Kougra sister for a minute. Come to think of it, I was bored, too. And hot. I glanced out the window, to where the blue-green Maraquan ocean sparkled invitingly in the sun. Reading about someone who does something is one thing, but actually doing something...
“Charlie, why do we need a boat? Can’t we just play in the water, Charlie?”
“Because sailing is much more fun,” I said patiently, sitting down in the sand. Alice plopped down next to me. We were on the beach of Maraqua, just a few yards from our house. My plan for ‘doing’ something was simple: build a boat, sail off, and discover a new land.
“Charlie-” Alice started.
“Ali, be quiet,” I groaned. “I need to think of how to make a boat.”
“I’ve never been on a boat,” Alice said petulantly. I ignored her.
“I think,” I started, when suddenly the sunlight disappeared. “Hey!” I yelled, leaping up. Deep laughter sounded from above me, and I looked up, full of dread, to see the largest, smelliest, ugliest pirate Kyrii ever looking down on us.
“Well, well, well,” he said, cackling. And then something hit me hard on my head, and the whole world went black.
* * *
Alice’s small hands brushed against my face. I moaned, tried to sit up, and hit my already-sore head as the room lurched. I fell backward and lay there, feeling the hard floor beneath me.
“Charlie? Are you awake?”
I made an effort and opened my eyes. It didn’t make much difference, though. I could barely see an inch in front of my nose in the dim light.
“Charlie, the pirates grabbed me, and tied me up, and brought me here in a boat,” Alice said cheerfully. “Now I’ve been on a boat.”
“I know,” I said, somewhat disgruntled that our adventure had taken this turn. “D’you know where we are, Ali?” I asked after a moment, sitting up again, this time with much more caution.
“The big pirate ship,” Alice answered, sucking her thumb absentmindedly. So the room really was moving, I thought. How interesting. A spray of cold water hit my shoulder and I whipped around to find the source of the light. A small chunk of wood, a knothole perhaps, was missing out of the side of the walls. Through it I could see the swells of the ocean that the ship floated on. Another six or so grams of water splashed in, wetting my cheek. I leaned back, and turned to face Alice. Finally, a chance to really prove that I, Charlie, was heroic.
“Ali,” I said. “We have to get out of here. And I have a plan.”
“A good plan, Charlie? Not like the Birthday Cake one?” Alice inquired. My face went red under my shadowy fur. I still well-remembered the disaster of trying to make our owner a birthday cake for her fifteenth birthday.
“Yes, a good plan,” I said firmly. “I’ll tell you what it is, and you have to cooperate all the way. OK?”
“OK, Charlie,” Alice agreed.
When the roof, or hatch, opened, as I had predicted, Ali and I were ready. The pirate Quiggle who leaned down never had a chance. I immediately went for his feet, while Alice, who is surprisingly agile and strong for a baby, tackled his arms. In three seconds flat he was tied with strips from his own bandana, and Alice and I were on deck. The crew, a motley assortment consisting of a red Shoyru, the Pirate Kyrii who had captured us, a green Mynci, and, obviously the captain, a puffed-up looking Pirate Gelert, stared in surprise. They moved far too slow as Alice and I raced across the deck, me yelling fierce war-cries. The red Shoyru, who was in the crow’s nest, jumped down onto the deck just behind us as we neared the rail, but succeeded only in tripping up the Myncii, who yelled loudly as he went sprawling. I meanwhile having reached the railing, hoisted myself onto the top, dragging Alice with me, and without a second thought, jumped.
The water was really quite warm, pleasant even, and it felt good to hear the pirate’s shouts of rage. It didn’t feel so good when I happened to look around, paddling fiercely to keep both me and Alice afloat, and noticed there was no land in sight. And the sight of the pirates readying themselves to jump after us didn’t make me feel any better.
“Charlie, I can’t swim, you know,” Alice said cheerfully, tugging on the sleeve of my T-shirt.
“I know,” I said. “Let me think.”
I stared unhappily at the pirates, devoiding themselves of boots and coats and hats, and then looked around. I was by now very tired, and my arms and legs couldn’t keep treading water much longer. I racked my brains furiously, trying to think of a way out of the situation.
“Not now, Ali,” I moaned. A small swell splashed against us, getting into my nose and mouth.
“No, Charlie, look!”
I looked where Alice was pointing. Her paw was indicating the side of the ship. I peered closer, and noticed to my surprise what seemed to be a cork of some sort. I Lupe-paddled toward it, a short distance of a few metres, and examined it closely. It was indeed a cork. Quite a large one. And it could have only one purpose...
“Now you people just wait a second!” I yelled, clinging onto the side of the ship with both paws. Alice was holding onto my back, humming quietly, and looking all around with an air of calm interest. The pirates on deck stopped in their movements, looking surprised.
“If you don’t do exactly as I say, I’ll pull your cork,” I said triumphantly, tilting my head back to better address the crew. This caused a reaction even I hadn’t anticipated.
“Nooooo!” the captain wailed, falling to his knees. Even in my cramped position, I felt some measure of glee as the rest of the crew joined in.
“Anything, anything,” the captain wailed. “Just don’t pull the cork! This ship is my home! My family! She’s everything to me! And the cork’s only temporary, jus’ till we can git ‘er fixed! We was lookin’ for a shipyard wen we saw yous!”
“Name me captain, and I’ll leave your ship unsunk!” I called grandly. The captain nodded vigorously.
“Oh, merciful sir-”
“- ma’am - ”
“- Yes, merciful ma’am – you have done us a great favour, you’re generousity will always be remembered,” the captain said, bowing again and again as Alice and I climbed the rope ladder that was lowered.
“Captain Jerry at your service,” he added as I landed on all fours on the deck, spraying salt-water onto all the pirates, who didn’t even look annoyed. Rather good, I thought.
“Show me to the wheel,” I said airily. “And fetch me one of those spiffy-looking hats,” I added. the Captain nodded, and with another bow, took off his own hat and presented it to me. It was a fine one, all stiff and red, with a black skull-and-crossbones on the front, and an enormous feather. I put it jauntily on and followed as Jerry led me humbly to the wheel. I nodded imperiously, as I felt a Captain should, as he bowed and left. I had always wanted to try captaining a ship, but up close the wheel looked a lot bigger than I had thought. I put one hand on the rough spokes, noticing the crew, pretending to be busy but really watching me, out of the corner of my eye.
“Ali,” I muttered, looking down at where my sister sat in front of me, looking totally unconcerned and nibbling a bit of seaweed, “I don’t know how to steer a ship.”
“Me neither, Charlie,” Alice said sincerely. “But Charlie, what time is it?”
“Yes, cause Mummy said she would be home at three o’ clock, and I’m hungry.”
Now that she said it, I was suddenly hungry too. very, very hungry.
“Captain Jerry!” I called imperiously.
“Yes, sir?” the Gelert came hurrying over, looking worried.
“I have decided that I and my sibling wish to go home,” I said as grandly as I could manage. “I will allow you to sail under my colours, as long as you bring me ten percent of the plunder.”
“Gladly,” Captain Jerry gushed. “Oh, merciful sir-- ”
“ – Ma’am – ”
“ –Yes, ma’am – how kind you are...”
Ten minutes later (it turned out we weren’t very far from land, after all), Alice and I were standing back on the beach, waving to the pirates as they sailed away. They all waved back, their hats off. I waited until they had disappeared into the horizon, then turned to Alice.
“That was some adventure,” I said with relish.
“You know, Charlie,” Alice said thoughtfully. “I don’t think the pirates are ever coming back. Not even to bring ten cent of plunger.”
“Ten percent of their plunder,” I corrected her. But I didn’t think so either. “C’mon, Ali, let’s go home.”
I took her hand, and we walked back up the beach, to where our neohome stood waiting, the same as when we left it. We had barely gotten inside and sat down on the sofa, when a key turned in the lock, and in stepped Eliza. She was sunburned pink, which clashed terribly with her bright red hair, she had three enormous bags of groceries, and she looked nearly as exhausted as us, which was saying something.
“Mummy!” Alice cried, running to her and throwing her arms around her. Eliza looked surprised. Then she saw me, and her looked turned puzzled.
“Where’d you get that hat, Charlie?” she asked, setting down her grocery bags. I reached up to feel the feather and smiled.
“It’s a long story,” I said. And Alice said: