A Short Story By Maggie Marsden-Sparrow & David Robbins

 

Prologue

Grammy new th names of all th flowers and all th plants. She new win to pluk leevs and bury seeds and pluk seeds and bury leevs. She new win the sun would be shining best and wich plants liked to sidl up to wich. She cud her singsongs all th daylong and y not win all around us was salt and wind.

Grammy June was her nam, or Joonbug, or somtims just Bug but only win she an evryon else was in a good mood, it was not a gud idea to call her that win she was sour on somthing or th wind was ill or this or that seed or leef was lost or stolen whether by winds or hands or acts of gawd as they used to say. Her and her raspee voyc. Her and her breth of clove. Her pet nams for all th kids. Her caklee laff win she wantd to put us in betr moods, and she was gud at that, putting us in bettr moods but not a shallow temporary emoshun but rather a deeper cawm or peess that only coms with feeling saf and lovd and saf som mor.

We hatd hr for leaving us th way she did.

We lovd hr evn mor th way she cam bak.

– Yu raskallions – she wud shout at us. – Yu sly mixtr of Raskals mat’d with Lions!

And thn chas us all over th plays. She cud scamper gud, let no man say anunder. She was qwite spri for an old ladee or kwoat L’dr unkwoat as they prefer to be calld upon reeching a crtn ayg. We cud never figger out wat was the magic numbr or if thr actuly was won, a numbr per say. Won tym, she chas’d me up 3 flits of stairs without stopping for breth not evn wonce but not me, I was gasping madly out of breth and out of lack of beleeving wat i was seeing, her coming up hard behind me i cud smell her dam cloves and heer her gruntings and laffings and weezings and she almost got a hands on me but i jumpd away just in tim. she cakl’d just th sam as if she’d cot me and part of me wisht she had.

Th day she left her eyes wer a litl wildr than usual and she kept tawkin about seeing turtls and ilans of pirat childrin and to be honest her breth was stinker than usual and she flek’d a litl as she spok to me and a few othrs who were also trying to understand wat it was she mit be saying or trying to say.

Older pepl around that day wer wirking up a frenzee of attribushun and blam about th latest thing to go rong and ther wer a lot of things that wer going rong, it was a bad tim to be a groanup if u askt me. It was somthing about a part of the machin that mad the watr ok to drink, I’m not a teknikal prson so am nevr sur about the rit terminology somtims. They wer blaming th kwoat unkwoat Pirats, or th Pirat childrn or ther mothrs and fathrs who seed’d thm, ther was a lot of dirti wirds flying around all over th plays. Pepl were upset, that much cud be plainly seen.

– It is not wat it appeers to be, Grammy said. – It is about somthing els, it oftn is. Is wat she sed.

I never lik’d it win L’drs grab’d my fass and skweez’d my cheeks, they r mine and mine alon and not anyone els’s to tuch upon or handl without my permitting but i mad this one excepshun that day for Granny cos she wuz acting strang and to be honest I was feeling a litl scar’d and perhaps preparing to feel loss and lonly and bandon’d and thn sur enuf, she did it.

We just stood ther and smil’d and nod’d and wav’d and thn qwit to r srpris and faster than win she chas’d me around th playss up and don many flits of stars she flung’d hrslf overbord quite willinglee and with a playss in mind to go, as if she wer just as easily hopping into bed instead she was hopping into the see cakelling a litl madlee if u askt me, wich is wat i told to the groanups ovr and ovr in the kwoat unkwoat intervu they seem’d so keen on.

And i told the hol truth and nothing but the truth so help me I did. I told them the truth that they cud handl in ther anger and ther feer.

I told them wat they all need’d to heer and invit’d them to figr out th morl in the middl of it all.

And I invent’d som of the bits as well to mak it a betr story to no about.

 

Part 1

The morning was my favourite.

The gentlest of lights came streaming through the leaves above me, dappling my grease-stained hands in colourful shadows as I worked. Nothing I was in charge of had exploded yet, nobody was screaming about some problem or another, and for who knows how brief a time even ol’ Johnson hadn’t barged outside to yell at people.

Turning my attention back to the matter at hand, I chuckled slightly as anxious, baby blue eyes watched me intently, little feet swinging rhythmically beneath the table.

“Is it done yet?” The little girl in in front of me asked, eyes widening as if the sheer want for it would make it happen. I smiled slightly, before squinting at my work.

“Why are your hands so dirty?” She questioned again.

“Because I’ve been working on machines and stuff. It’s pretty dirty.”

“Oh…”

There was a moment of quiet, only the subtle clicking sound of my fingers flitting across the object in my hands.

…”Is it done yet?”

I sighed. “Not yet, kid. It’ll only take me another minute though, I promise.” The little girl pouted, leaning forwards and resting her chin on the table. “But you said that a whole other minute ago! I knew all grown-ups were not to be trusted…” She whispered, kicking her legs unhappily.

“I’m only 17… I’m not a grown-up yet.” I grumbled, but the child only giggled in response.

Shaking my head, I continued working. “And sorry, I can only go so fast. How’d you bang this thing up so badly anyway?” I questioned, twisting a bit of rogue wiring experimentally. The girl’s eyes lit up, and she sat up straight so suddenly I had to grab the edge of her chair to keep her from falling backwards.

“I was playin’ in one o’ the gardens! With Tommy and Misha and Cayd’n!” She exclaimed, practically bouncing in her chair. “An’ we were playin’ this game where Misha was one o’ the Piratses and me an’ Tommy were saving Cayd’n from ‘er ’cause she’d been kidnapped!”

I raised an eyebrow, looking up from the object in my hands. “Pirates?”

“Yeah!” She screamed, a little louder than was probably necessary. “An’ we needed a distraction, so we could rescue him! So I ran to the super awesome-room of-destiny and got Stanley!” She exclaimed, gesturing proudly to the potato shaped rubber thing with legs I held in my hands, with bits of wires and things sticking out of one side. “So I wound ’em up, told ’em where to go, an’ set ’em off! He did the bestest job of distractin’, but then Tommy stepped on him a few times while we was rescuin’ Cayd’n, an’ he stopped movin’…” She finished sadly.

“That sounds like a serious adventure.” I said with a smile. With a final click, I put down the tweezers and held the toy out to her. “Here’s your, uh, Stanley. Be careful that he doesn’t get stepped on this time, okay kid?” The little girl almost exploded with delight, thanking me quickly before bolting off towards the gardens again, Stanley in tow.

Leaning back in my chair, I stared up at the gently swaying leaves, the bright green an amazing contrast against the lovely blue of the sky. A soft breeze had picked up, carrying the smell of the gardens with it.

Mornings were my favourite.

 

***

 

Misha was born during a storm and they made jokes about her being Stormborn as if she was a character from Game of Drones or had a tempestuous nature or caused damage in her wake but none of that was true.

She was a gentle, quiet, observant and some say freakishly intelligent child. By age 9 she may have had the biggest vocabulary of everyone around her, including the shrivelly old people and the overly confident grownups who fancied themselves the smartest people in any given room or other kind of place that adults gather to flap gums and wag chins. Around barbecues. Around water dispensers. In the kitchen.

One day her parents, otherwise good people, decided they would attempt to force Misha to show off her preternatural speaking skills to the Kitchen Crew. Misha had been quietly discussing what appeared to be matters of the greatest import with Cayd’n’s mother Avril who was Lead Hand that day responsible for planning the week’s meals and assessing the stocks and inventories. Avril was not pleased with what she had found – or not found, with certain supplies gone quite missing and the store of preserved food more diminished than previously understood. Misha took it upon herself to neutralize Avril’s growing agitation and suggest alternative response strategies than the vengeful one brewing in Avril’s mind. It was at this point Misha’s father commanded Misha to explain to the others in the Kitchen the “differential pulse cultivation methodologies” she had developed from the basis Elder June had laid down. Laid down. The words themselves had some kind of unearned divinity about them. It was ridiculous, Misha thought, to conceive of the permacultural practices honed by June to be some kind of divinely imbued order or dogma – June herself would snort at the very thought of that, Misha knew. Snort, cough and likely hack and spit, to boot. Misha refrained. Avril rushed in.

“It’s those pirate children, isn’t it? Taking our food, stealing our supplies! You!”

Misha feigned fear. “Me?”

“You! You know what I’m talking about! They come aboard and mix and mingle with you kids so as we can’t see who is who and they get in here and help themselves like the thieves and cowards they are!”

Misha frowned. You could plant crops in the furrow on her forehead, and she was only 11. She knew where this was heading.

“No more!” cried Avril. “No more helping the little bastards help themselves to our food, you hear!”

Others standing around took up Avril’s call. “No more! No more!” They cried.

Avril rounded on Misha. “You help one more pirate sea urchin raid our stock and so help me we will flog the both of you!”

At this point even Misha’s parents, otherwise good people, were struck a little dumb with their own fear and trepidation, for they knew where this was going.

Later, when quite nobody was observing her, Misha made her way to the hideout where she and Tommy had stashed some of the food they had nicked from the kitchen thinking its absence would not at all be noticed or if noticed then not missed. Let alone cause rage and madness, or stir the pot of fear and vengeance. Something sour was brewing, that much was clear.

Poor Tommy looked at Misha with terror in his eyes. He had heard the yelling in the Kitchen and had stopped just outside the door. He knew better to enter. He turned right around and bounded a convoluted route to their hideout just like they had practiced.

“What’s gonna happen, Misha? What’s going to happen to them?”

Misha lit the stub of a candle and set it upon a box in the middle of their improvised den. They watched it flicker and grow in strength and soon both could see more clearly in the gloom, see the pilfered items take shape: jars of eggs, sauerkraut, sacks of pulses and seeds. Not much, but not nothing; in fact pennies from heaven for anyone one whose people were teetering on vanishing into the sea. As the candle light warmed the air and fought the dark, three of the so-called pirate children, Natch and Hew and Flip, stepped forward from the shadows of the room, silent as church mice and almost as slight, to noiselessly collect the bounty and slip it into woven sacks slung over their shoulders.

“Thank you, Misha. Thank you, Tommy,” said the one named Hew. “You are good to us and we will not forget you.”

“We will not forget you either,” Misha said. “I couldn’t have figured out how to improve the nutrient yield of the pulses without your help. But we must figure out another way now. The groanups are raising a ruckus and making all kinds of threats. You should stay away for a little while.”

Flip chuckled, a little too loudly for Tommy’s comfort. Tommy was scared out of his poor mind by this point.

“How can we stay away?” asked Hew. “You’re our bestest friends!”

They laughed. A good shared laugh. The last one they would have for a while.

 

***

 

In the ever sinking light, shadowed silhouettes stood alone on a rocky outcropping, the orange sunset at their backs and an endless expanse of sparkling water before them.

“We’ve done this before, Fetch.” One of the boys said. “They’ll be back soon.” The girl at the front nodded, though didn’t look at him.

“I know. I just… I worry.” She said, more quietly than intended. The boy smiled and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her closer. “They’ll be fine, sis.” He said, forcing a smile out of her.

After another moment, he suddenly perked up. “Oh! Look, there they are now!” He called, waving an arm so as to catch the people they’d been waiting for’s attention. Someone waved back, and the group quickly descended towards them. “Finally.” Fetch muttered.

Three children of various ages smashed into the group with squeals of joy, resulting in everyone falling backwards in a chaotic splay of limbs and strangled words.

“Ger’off me!” Someone yelled.

“Someone’s foot is in my face- bleh!” Another choked out, trying to worm their way away.

“You’re crushing my stomach!”

“Someone’s hand is somewhere it really shouldn’t be!”

It went on like this for a short while before everyone was finally free, though looking greatly more dishevelled than before. And they hadn’t exactly been the cleanest to begin with.

With the greetings dealt with, the group headed back up the rocks, and towards home.

After a while of walking, they arrived at their destination. Fetch, who’d been walking at the front, slipped through a cascading wall of soft green lichen, the rest of the group not far behind.

They all came out into a clearing, surrounded by rock walls and thick groves of trees and foliage. Shelters of difference shapes, sizes, and colours were everywhere, people milling in and out of them and going about their business.

“Hey! Everyone’s back!” Someone yelled, and in seconds a small crowd had gathered, a few other older kids coming to take the sack’s of food from Hew and the other three. Hew himself tugged on Fetch’s shirt, getting her attention.

“Misha said that we should stay away for a little while. No taking food, at least…” He said, though it was clear he didn’t fully understand why. Fetch frowned, but nodded. Misha had helped her and her people immensely, so if the little girl thought it was better for them to lay low for a while, she’d listen.

Mostly.

 

Part 2

She might like mornings best, but Blu didn’t like this morning. As one of the ship’s best and youngest mechanics, she was already greasy and coated in coal dust and sweating up a mess. It was oppressively hot down below and she was feeling nauseous – the dust, she knew – and anxious, why, she knew not.

Coal. After everything that happened, after the seas overtook most coastal cities, after the economy collapsed, this time for real, for years and years, after all the scrambling for alternatives – alternative economics, alternative energy, alternative institutions – it was all about coal.

Coal kept their ship running. An old cross-Atlantic passenger steam ship, the Barge had never been converted to electric or diesel, and lucky thing, too. Its old coal-powered boilers were in good shape with spare parts at hand. They had found it chugging the muddy new coastal waters of the reinvented west coast, its old local ports vanished and relocated and centralized at select super ports that became virtual city states of transit, mixing and subterfuge. New Dock was where Blu the mechanic had come onboard, a bustling hive of good desperate people and patient opportunists.

She had come to love the ship’s children, loved talking to them, fixing their broken toys, keeping one ear out for their schemes and exploits. When not mobbed by the younguns or trying to fix the ship’s parts, components and systems, she often found moments of peace in the gardens of the top decks, losing herself in the verdant walls and partial ceilings of dapple light, the coolest place on the Barge. There was one spot, a low covered bench nestled between asparagus plants and grape vines, where she could all but vanish to the outside world and stare out upon the open sea or the confused angry new shores of the world they had made.

Grownup voices woke her from her morning dream. She hadn’t come to love the grownups, it must be said, didn’t enjoy talking to them, didn’t appreciate having to parse their worries and schemes and plots and remember which faction was which and which person of influence was part of which network of positioning, strategy and tactic. It was sad, if you asked Blu, that after all that had happened, after all that had been lost, that it came down to coal and the roaming alliances of bitter and blustery personalities aboard a 100 year-old glorified overblown steamboat.

Faction 1 – Avril and her followers, or those browbeaten or herded into following her and her lieutenants, a growing band of ruffians and characters of dubious democratic intent.

Faction 2 – The “Anyone But Avril” alliance, more diverse in terms of interests and personnel, but weaker in their resolve, committed to AMDAP – As Much Democracy As Possible – with Old Fred the Defanged Facilitator presiding over the “rules” much to everyone’s frequent chagrin.

Faction 3 – A miscellany of opportunists, sellswords and shapeshifters who it could be argued can’t really be considered a “faction” at all but for the shadowy influence many of them play. Kingmakers.

Blu would wish upon them a pox on all their houses but for the fact that they all shared the same house, all 643 grownups, groanups, chilln, plus pets, livestock and the roaming ones – birds, rats, mice; words, Pirats, lice.

Grownup voices woke her, with their sly plotting and their anger masquerading as concern over the ship’s stores, when Blu and others knew full well that their provisions were not in doubt, that despite the ups and downs of the slow ship’s daily life, their food situation was, all things considered, pretty good. Gardens gave them a regular plenty, happy chickens roamed the Poop Deck, of course, dropping also prized fresh eggs. Fresh fish was abundant in the continental shelf they prowled, steaming in one direction then the other. Fresh water was another story – they had backup stores in converted tanks, enough for a week, ten days at most; regular scouting parties sniffed along the shorelines for streams and river mouths. Their desalination machine, Blu’s primary responsibility, was their biggest worry.

But Blu wasn’t worried about the deSalter today. There was something else in the air, something verging on sour, as Granny Joon would have said, were she there, had she not flung herself overboard one fine morning not unlike this one. Maybe that is what put Blu ill at ease. Another bright blue sky. Another warped Gulf current making everything much warmer than the calendar would suggest, not that weather patterns held firm in Life After – in fact they were long gone, and the names of months meant nothing for the seasons were now shattered, fractured, splintering in random shards across their vain attempts to retain old schedules and the meanings of “weekday” and “business hours”. Another day when it smelled like something sour was brewing.

The nausea Blu felt wasn’t just from the coal dust. This was the belly sickness caused by one thing and one or two or three things only: Faction 1, Faction 2 and Faction 3.

 

***

 

Remember the “mostly”?

To be fair, Fetch did listen. She listened for as long as she could stand hearing “I’m hungry” from her family and friends.

From where she sat on one of the larger tree roots, she could see most of the home she and the others had built. It was amazing really, considering the oldest of them wasn’t even an adult yet. A bunch of dirty, underfed teenagers and kids, that’s what Fetch and her people were.

There used to be more. Adults and such like, that is. No one really remembers what happened to them, but everyone knows they’re gone. Ran away or dead most likely, though it was never said out loud. For the kids, y’know?

It was hard, but it was okay. They all had each other, and the older kids looked after the younger kids just fine. The only problem was food. They had a meager farm going on, with pulses and a few vegetables they’d learned were edible through trial and error.

But the real problem was meat. Meat required animal death, and most of the animals around didn’t exactly feel like jumping onto their knives. It required hunting, and hunting requires strength, and strength requires food.

It was hard, but it wasn’t too much of a burden. Though, Fetch could have sworn that their food stores had been lower than usual recently. Must have been the other animals.

A voice calling her name snapped Fetch from her musings. The voice in question was one of the older teens, around Fetch’s own age, waving her over to a quickly forming group. Sliding off the root, she grabbed her knife and strapped it to her thigh, for emergencies.

“We ready to go?” She asked, the others nodding in response. Turning towards the exit, Fetch spared a glance up at the sky. The sun was just starting to set, making it the perfect time.

The time for a raid.

 

***

 

Slowly, quietly, silently the group slipped into the water. All but Fetch had a kind of floatation device with them, made out of a strange mix of plastic they’d scrounged and duck feathers and wood, to keep whatever food they got dry.

The sun had just gone down so the darkness was settling in, the ship-goers starting to batten down for the night. A bunch of dirt covered kids swimming to a ship in the darkness? Perfectly hidden.

They’d done it before. Almost every one of Fetch’s family knew how to swim at this point, and quite a few of the children had made friends with the ship-kids. Fetch herself had only ever been onto the ship for a very brief time, and only ever to take food.

Once they were close enough Fetch climbed up the side of the scarily large boat, motioning for the others to follow. Like tree-sap covered monkeys, they were.

Slipping over the side, she quickly looked around to make sure there was no one around. Not many people were on deck at all times, especially at night. Besides, she’d done it multiple times before, so the ship-people’s security couldn’t be that good.

Motioning for the others to follow, Fetch crept forwards and towards where she knew they kept food. Checking again, and then double checking for people, she finally entered the room, followed by the few others with her.

“You know the drill. Don’t take all of one thing, take only what we need and get out.” She said, watching the door and listening for footsteps as the others put a few things into sacks. Fetch didn’t know what half the stuff was, but if it was in here it was probably edible.

Then suddenly footsteps. Heavy footsteps.

Freezing in place, Fetch motioned for the others to stop and move towards the door. Worst come’s to worst, they’d run for it.

Carefully peering out of the doorway, Fetch came face to face with an older man. He had been out for a midnight snack, you see, and had come to the kitchen knowing that no one would be there.

Or so he thought.

Fetch jumped back, eyes wide, staring at the man as he rubbed his eyes thinking he was dreaming. “What are you kids doing up this late-?” He started to say, before finally making the connection. Taking food, the terrified look, the fact that they were still drenched from swimming. The man frowned for a moment, opened his mouth, closed it again, until finally his eyes got as big as coconuts and he pointed at them all, Fetch and her people still frozen in shock.

“You’re not from this ship!” He finally exclaimed, making Fetch snap out of her freeze-frame.

“Go! He can’t catch all of us!” She yelled, and the other sprung to life, running past the man as Fetch slid under his legs. The telltale sounds of quickly approaching feet made Fetch turn, seeing a group of very angry people running towards her. Stumbling back, she ran towards the edge of the ship where the rest of her raiding party had already gone over.

But it was too late. Before she could even get close enough to fling herself over the edge, someone grabbed her from behind. Fetch was stopped dead by a hand on her arm, which quickly wrapped around her. She struggled, and managed to kick her captor in the leg, but they just lifted her off the ground so all she could do was kick her legs angrily and try unsuccessfully to bite the arms that held her. She managed to bash some woman -wearing an almost blindingly red shirt- in the gut, but said victim seemed to be the one in charge of her walking-jail-with-arms, and ordered her to be taken to somewhere that’s name Fetch didn’t quite catch and tied up. She continued to struggle, but after a slightly violent shove decided it might be better to bide her time.

She was taken to a relatively large room, dropped onto the floor by her captor and then tied up quite firmly. The supposed leader whispered a few words to one of her henchmen, who ducked out of the room. Off to get more people, no doubt.

The woman in question (And her startlingly red shirt) pulled up a chair and sat in front of Fetch, who glared back at her.

“This is what you get for stealing from us.” Red seethed, her voice sounding almost snake-like.

Swallowing, Fetch shifted her body so the rope didn’t bite into her skin quite so much. She could take care of herself. She’d find a way out of this, and away from the terrifyingly pleased glare of the woman in red.

 

Part 3

Granny May gritted her teeth and, checking to see that nobody was looking, spit forcefully on the deck. She was still chafing at her sister June’s abrupt and selfish disappearance, but that is not what irritated her in this moment. Right now, she was doing everything she could to not lose Her Freaking Mind at the way Avril was behaving towards their guest – or, as the red-shirted dictator herself would say, their prisoner, their leverage, their bargaining chip. She did not sign up for this kind of thing. The good news was, she wasn’t the only one.

She greeted each of her fellows Grandmothers at the door as they entered, one by two by three. Before too long, their “quiet” meeting had attracted 14 elders. Joan had laughed at the time, saying they should ask for ID to make sure everyone attending was at least 67. Such was the direness of the situation, May briefly considered it, before noticing her friend was grinning and had even begun to guffaw. Joan’s guffaw was a raucous thing once it got started, and May and the others partially lived in fear of its full eruption – especially at what was supposed to be a clandestine meeting of concerned elders.

Who had had quite enough of the jibber jabber of the young hotheads, led in part by that nasty piece of work Avril and Greeg her male friend of dubious character. One of the elders could have sworn they had seen a “wanted” poster with Greeg’s mug on it back at the fuel depot in New Dock. Another one of them had a cousin who swore that Greeg had been dishonourably discharged from the Navy for conduct unbecoming an officer, let alone a gentlemen. Something about guns, or was it drugs, or smuggling, or all of the above and then some – the usual, and not the kind of character that May, Joan and the rest of them really wanted to tangle with.

“We can’t fight Avril’s fire with fire,” May said. “We need to fight it with water. Let’s get started.”

And with that, the rise of the Grandmothers had began.

 

***

 

The Grandfathers knew all about the Grandmothers’ secret meetings, of course they did, having heard their complaints and concerns and knowing and providing sympathetic ears and sturdy shoulders and only sometimes useless advice that couldn’t be taken seriously but with a grain of salt or two for the intent was pure. But one thing was for sure, the Grandfathers knew full well that once this particular sleeping giant began to rise then woe betide any hothead whether male or female who stood in its way. The Grandfathers of The Barge helped prepare in the kitchen, cooking up storms of food to tuck away just in case the battle was prolonged, and generally got themselves excited about the drama to come – all the while re-learning how to whisper and Keep Their Damn Voices Down, despite their growing agitation and nervousness.

Their discretion would make the difference. The Grandmothers needed to choose the moment, and not have it chosen for them by their excitable boyfriends, mates and peers, all of them outraged and scandalized at the treatment that the young “pirate” child had received at the hands of the unfortunate ruffians they had on board. Fancied themselves warriors. The Grandfathers snorted.

 

***

 

Avril and Greeg had matching red shirts, lest anyone forget who they were or not be able to pick them out of the crowd. On the Barge, anyone could call a community meeting by marching around the boat while ringing a pounded metal lid strung up like a gong. It was an old-fashioned way to get people’s attention, but it worked well and usually, no matter who was in the lead pounding the lid, it ended up in a chaotic parade of sorts with the children leaping around as part of the procession. Not this time. The children didn’t care to frolic about under the icy glare of the redshirts. They had better things to do.

But still, a community meeting had been called, icy glares or no.

“We got some bizness to decide,” Greeg began.

“What the hell you talkin’ about Lumphead?” shouted Big Billy Harper, way at the back and out of stone’s throw. It was true. Greeg had a bit of a lumpy head, but he just smiled at the attempted insult.

“He’s talking about what it is we’re gonna do with these horrible, thieving pirate bastards that keep stealing our food,” Avril explained on his behalf. Greeg grunted.

“Let’s round ’em up, and string ’em up, and eat ’em up! Yarrrrrrrr!” Billy again, making good hearted if dubious fun at their expense. But what Avril said next caught him up.

“The first two would suffice,” she agreed. “Things ain’t so bad we need to consider the last resort.”

At this, the crowd began to shift and murmur nervously….

 

***

 

The ship’s children -or at least a large group of them- huddled by the door to the meeting room. They were all terrified of the redshirts, but not scared enough to not eavesdrop.

“Shh! They’ll hear us!” Someone muttered, trying to get close enough to hear something from the inside.

“Nah, no chance. they’re all so cawt up in their own bid’ness, they wouldn’t hear the clank machine fin’lly break.”

Misha, who’d been trying to listen, shushed the speaker. “If we’re all talking, then they may not hear us, but we won’t hear them either. Now everybody be quiet so I can listen.” She said calmly. Immediately, the unruly children went mostly silent, except a few giggles and soft noises.

“-what it is we’re gonna do with these horrible, thieving pirate bastards that keep stealing our food,” A female voice said from inside. Avril, Misha recognized.

“Let’s round ’em up, and string ’em up, and eat ’em up! Yarrrrrrrr!” A male voice joined her, in an almost joking fashion.

“The first two would suffice,” Avril responded, making Misha and the other children glance worriedly at each other. They of course already knew that one of the “Pirates” had been captured. Children were everywhere, under everything, and always knew when to be awake for certain things. It was like a chain reaction. One child would either be awake, or wake up, and soon all of them were up and sneakin’ about.

The group had erupted into whisperings and confused mumbles, most of which were directed at Misha, as she was the smartest-est. Misha herself was frowning, her brow furrowed in it’s usual deep manner as she thought.

They weren’t gonna kill ’em… Were they?

 

***

 

Fetch’s breathing had changed to various speeds over the last few hours. It was dreadfully boring just sitting there, but the anxiety and fear building in the pit of her stomach had seen it to be downright painful.

The bindings keeping her subdued dig into her wrists and arms, rubbing her skin red after many failed attempts at an escape. After catching her, the adults had said something about a “Meeting” and then left, locking the door from the outside and leaving her there to stew.

Finally, after what felt like forever, the adults burst into the room. Fetch jumped, frantically righting herself on the floor. Though it was pointless, as one of the larger men just grabbed the back of the ropes wrapped around her and hoisted her straight off the ground. A growling sound rose from her throat, more out of frustration than anger.

They dragged her away. Down a hall, down another hall, around a corner, and so on until they were outside on the deck.

“Get a rope around there! We’ll deal with this vermin right now.” The woman in red yelled, motioning people around with her arms.

By now, other members of the ship had started to wake up, disturbed by the yelling and various sounds. There were some suspicions of a few parents getting woken up by their children, but it was only suspicion…

At the knowledge of being “Dealt with”, Fetch’s breathing sped up significantly. Fear coursed through her, making it difficult to think. They were going to hang her. They were going to kill her, and all for taking food to keep her family alive.

It was madness.

A rope was tossed up somewhere, onto a higher part of the ship. Fetch had no idea what, as her knowledge of boats -much less one as big as this- was highly limited.

“Get the Pirate over here and onto this barrel!” Someone called, and suddenly Fetch was moving. The muscles holding her carried her like she was a rag-doll, but at the notice of her quickly approaching death, seemed to find the will to struggle again.

“Let go of me!” She said angrily, though traces of fear crept into her voice. “We’ll never come back! We won’t take your food anymore!” She said, on the verge of tears at this point.

The red shirt, now with her same-shirted friend, chuckled. “Of course you won’t. Because we’re getting rid of you once and for all.”

Fetch shook as she was placed on a barrel, a fancilly tied rope fit snugly around her neck. With the last ounces of her pride, she took a deep breath and glared out at the crowd, noticing it seeming to have grown bigger than before.

Someone from above yelled that the rope was secure, and another moved close to the barrel so as to kick it out from under her once Avril and Greeg gave the signal.

Raising her hand, Avril prepared to order the girl’s death. Fetch herself had her eyes glues to the slowly brightening horizon, the sun just beginning to rise from it’s slumber.

“Kick the-” Avril began to say, but the command was interrupted by a different order from an older, gravelly-er voice.

“STOP THIS NONSENSE!” It called angrily.

Everyone spun around to see none other than Grammy June in the flesh, in all her drenched, furious glory, her silhouette illuminated by the barest of sunrises.

Even more surprising, was that behind her, Fetch’s brethren were climbing over the side of the ship as well. All exhausted, as some seemed to collapse onto those closest to them.

“So!” Grammy June boomed, marching towards the crowd. “Someone care to explain what’s happening?”

And then, just for a moment, everybody shut the hell up.

And for some reason Fetch would understand only later, she began to laugh. A slight giggle at first, nervous and timid, but then the ridiculousness of the sound at this particular moment tripped her up and she began to laugh fully, openly, without shame. This was a laugh that the guffaw-pro Joan could get behind, thought Joan, who then proceeded to follow Fetch’s lead, from sheer joy (and confusion) upon seeing her old friend June who looked quite a sight, dripping wet, spitting mad, but garlanded with a queenly throw of kelp around her shoulders dragging on the deck behind her.

The first thing June did was ease Fetch down off the barrel and into the arms of the circle of Grandmothers who had formed around her. If looks could kill, or shame, or cause even a Lumphead like Greeg to think twice, then the looks these Grandmothers were giving off did all three for both Greeg and Avril stopped in their tracks.

The second thing June did was hoist her own self atop the barrel and raised herself to her full height. She was quite the sight, which was appropriate, for she was about to give the speech of her life.

It went something like this.

“It’s true, she said. I threw myself overboard. For I was ashamed at what I was hearing. I was ashamed at what we had become. And I couldn’t bear it. I had to leave – but only to return. To return once I had found out the truth. Which I have done. And not a moment too soon, it would seem. You redshirts, what have you become? What grip of madness are you in? Why do others follow you in your anger and your fear? These are the questions we must all answer, each of us, for ourselves. I recommend a bracing swim and trusting the will of the sea to take you where you need to go. I recommend going to the Island of the So-called Pirates. I recommend actually talking to them as human beings, which, as you can clearly see yourselves, they clearly are – and mostly children to boot -”

And here she swept her seaweeded arms in a swooping gesture to take in the huddled “pirate” children, scrawny and all the colours of the beach – blond, black, brown and grey with malnutrition and desperation.

“This is what you fear? These children? Abandoned by the world they had to fend for themselves as best they could, the older ones like Fetch here making sure the younger ones always ate first, were cared for first, were thought of first. And yes if that meant the occasional pilfering of some supplies or pouch of food or just a kind word then I am proud of our own children who joined them in that most fundamental bond of solidarity and mutual aid! I can think of no finer legacy that that. Or no more bitter shame than what some of us have visited upon our guests, our neighbours, our own.”

Turning to Greeg, she continued.

“Greeg darling, you were a warrior in Life Before. And you want to be a warrior in Life After. This is a high calling, a duty, an honourable one. But fighting children and threatening them is not honourable. It is not what you signed up for – it never was, and that is why you left the Forces, I know. I know. We are so glad you are with us. Your skills and experience have helped us through many a scrape and we are grateful.”

June came down from the barrel and walked slowly up to embrace Greeg. He was stiff in her weedy arms but she just pulled him close and after a moment he let his lumpy head rest on her shoulder. If you looked closely, you could see his body shake, just a little, just once, just twice – and before long he was sobbing despite himself and despite the disgusted glare from Avril.

“Avril, this will not do,” June said, gently hugging Greeg before turning to face her. “One thing we all pledged was allegiance to each other and to the better angels of our spirit and our determination to live – not in fear and anger but in hope and in help. These orphaned children are our’s to help and to pass along the torch of hope – that is our work. That is our duty. That is our privilege. From this day forward, they are us and we are them. For all time.”

“Never!” cried Avril. “No!” And she bounded over towards Fetch trying to grab and clutch her but it was useless with the ring of Grandmothers standing firm. She rounded on the others, and grabbed the nearest orphaned child, Hew, and pulled him towards the side of the boat. Two of the ship’s men tried to stop her but Avril had pulled a knife and was holding it to poor Hew’s throat. Avril shuffled them both closer to the edge.

“Not one step closer or – I swear, I will do it. I will cut his throat.”

“You will do no such thing.”

This was a new voice. From the crowd, Blu the mechanic stepped forward, holding a piece of metal in her hands. Was it a gun? No, it was a piece of equipment of some kind. People stared in confusion.

“This here is the last part to repair the deSalter – the machine we rely on to process our drinking water.” Blu held it over the railing. “So help me Avril if you harm that boy I will drop this into the sea and our voyage will come to a thirsty end – for all of us.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me. Just try me.”

The faces glaring, the people closing in, the sound of heartbeats thumping in unison.

Avril dropped the knife and sank to her knees. Hew ran into Blu’s embrace. The crowd cheered and erupted in hoots and hollers and plenty plenty guffaws.

 

Epilogue

She hit the water hard and her knickers, it must be said, got twisted a little bit. She came up sputtering and mouth full of salt water and calmed herself. She knew this would work.

Before too long, before a cry could be raised on ship, before they could see what had happened, June hitched her ride.

The sea turtle was almost 8 feet across, its back ancient and strong and more than enough to carry her where she needed to go.

To the Pirate Island, the place where the orphaned children had made the best of it. To speak with them. To understand the tangled webs already weaved in darkness.

The turtle nodded and they set out. It was careful to stay hovering through the line where water meets air.

It wasn’t far, but might as well have been forever away. The makeshift rafts. The tattered tents. The almost bare cupboards. The barrels of fresh fruit. The torn red shirt.

Yes, Fetch explained. They had been here. They took what they wanted. We fought back but they just laughed and got away. They took what little medicine we had. They helped themselves.

We watched them go. We followed them. It was easy to take stuff. A little at a time. We figured it was okay. We figured it was fair. We didn’t hurt nobody. We didn’t even scare anyone. We just needed a few things. We were just doing our best.

You did it just right, June told her. You did everything just right.

 

 

 

Life After