Prompt: One good turn deserves another. —Aesop’s Fables
All I could see was gold and hot-white, and in the middle of it all, the most incredible figure I’d ever seen. The Spanish sun bleached away everything on that lost island, but not him. Its rays splashed all around his tall silhouette, but the pirate’s sword swung so wide and sliced so fine that it split that sun into a million pieces.
“Ahoy!” He called to us, “be not becalmed before theses hounds of Hades! No me hearties! me buckos! All hands to me! All hands to your mizzenmast! Fill not your coffers with barbarian blood! To me lads, to me!”
The captain’s order wrapped around my middle and pulled me up from the beach. Nothing mattered but the captain and his longboat and off, off this cursed land and clear of flesh-hungry natives. I realized I was not running alone; Kesser and Mango pushed and tugged each other in turn on my right and at least three other crew members I didn’t know tripped and scrambled on my left. I dared not look behind. Not where I knew the dark bodied beasts of the steamy jungle drew closer.
“Don’t stop cabin boy!” Kesser said, “He’s gone mate, he’s gone, to the boat, to the captain—arg!” he hits the sand for the last time and Mango disappears with him. Another glade to my left confirmed I ran alone.
“On boy! On boy!” The captain drew a dagger from his boot and staked the boat’s tow rope in the ground. “Run, damn you gully rat!”
My lungs refused to open and I pushed, blinded, on toward the captain’s calls. Behind me the hoo-bolo-hoo-bolo-hoo-bolo-hoo! of the hunter’s song; the stampeding feet; stomped out any hope I had of stopping.
My body reached the captain but I flew far away. I saw the black-coated Bart launch me over his plume and hard into the boat. The whoops stopped, the thin tissue in my throat that smacked when I breathed was gone, the blood that congealed in my spine broke; I was a head, floating up a pillar of warm sea air and I was very glad to be leaving myself ashore.
But it was not just me ashore. It was my benefactor. It was my purposeful savior. It was the only thing that could have stayed me. Captain Bart swiped and poked into a formless monster, armed and attacking with a thousand teeth. And so, I stopped, I pulled myself down to the longboat and stood my child’s body up right. Immediately I searched the craft for a weapon. I drooled then spat blood into the foam.
I turned, panicked, to the beach. Bart barked and beat back the horde, swinging fast and wide. “The black ball, boy! Light her up! Throw her out!”
In a wooden chicken-cage at my feet, three tar-black orbs lay nested in wet hay.
“I don’t have—I don’t have fire … fire …” I looked back to Captain Bart, I closed my eyes and forced myself to breathe before I opened them again and searched the mob. I could not mistake the waving heat of fire; their ranks were thick with torch bearers.
The captain yelled. I lunged back to the chicken-crate and drove my heal into the planks until I could take all three orbs into my arms. I took the first in hand and weighed it in my hand; it was heavy, four pounds, and my shoulder ached under it.
“Skunk my boy! If you’re planning to save my life, now would suit an old pirate well as later!”
I set down the other balls and took the first in both hands. I twisted my torso and heaved it toward the beach. It landed behind Captain Bart who saw the ball coming, kicked sand at the natives and dove aside. When nothing happened, he jumped to his feet and fought on. I took up the second and tried the same technique with more twist. That time I made it into the mob, but again, nothing happened.
The natives yelped in a high, frantic tone. I took up the last ball and prepared as before. When I did, I saw the captain waving a hand at me and I paused. Just then, his magnificent sword dropped from his unbreakable grasp. It stuck in the sand and its master followed after. The mob’s cries grew more excited as I twisted farther still and sent out our last chance with a prayer.
The effect was more than the natives could not have prepared for. The bomb landed in a hot patch of natives, three yards past the captain and expanded into a blast of thunder and fire that consumed every man it touched. The panic that followed gave me the chance to reach shore. I took up the eight-foot oar and stabbed and twisted it until I nearly beached it. “Captain! Grab hold sir!” I cast out the oar, catching it in hand at its butt; it touched his cheek. “Please captain, grab on, I’m drifting out!”
Captain Bart snatched up the swollen oak oar in his fist. “It wasn’t perfect lad.” He groaned to his feet and let the ebb of the waves drag him out with me and the longboat. I grabbed him by the straps on his coat-shoulders and helped pull him up out of the water and onto the deck. His coiled beard glistened with sea-dew. His rotten teeth clicked as he laughed. “But you did leave a powerful impression on the damn savages, eh?” And with that he slipped into a long fit of coughing laughter that followed us out to our anchored ship.