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It was while walking home from school on Thursday that Tim McConagee found the human skull.
It was a skull without a jawbone. Tim put it under his arm and walked on home. He laughed as he wondered what people driving on the highway would think, seeing a twelve-year-old boy carrying that gruesome thing.
Tim lived on an island. It was named Ocracoke and it was part of a long strip of land called the Outer Banks of North Carolina, about twenty miles out to sea from the mainland. To the east rolled the mighty Atlantic Ocean; to the west lay the more peaceful body of water called Pamlico Sound. For hundreds of years sailing ships have harbored peacefully in the fresh waters of the Sound and then have sailed out to sea through the inlets which break the strip of sand into a string of long, skinny islands.
There was no way to get to Ocracoke except by boat. To the southwest was Ocracoke Inlet, where in clear weather you could see the town of Portsmouth on the other side. To the northeast was Hatteras Inlet, and beyond that lay Hatteras Island with its famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
With the skull under his arm Tim walked to the store where he lived with the Cap’n. Long ago, it was said, the building was an inn, a tavern for seafaring men; some folks even said it was a pirate hideaway. But today the store sold fishing bait and groceries, and fishing tackle, and hardware. If you were hungry the Cap’n could serve you up a steaming plate of shrimp or a bowl of clam chowder. Above the door was a picture of a spinning wheel and the sign read “THE YARN BOX.”
A car with Oklahoma license plates was parked in front. The Capn’s customers came from all over the United States and Canada; they came to the Banks for fishing and swimming, camping and sight-seeing. If the Cap’n had customers Tim didn’t want to scare them away; he pulled off his jacket and wrapped it around the skull before he went inside. A young man and woman were sitting at the table, each with a cup of coffee and a steaming bowl of chowder. “Newly-weds, judging from the way they’re looking at each other,” thought Tim.
Long ago before the Cap’n was born someone had carved some words on the wood beam overhead
Who First a Tale Shall Tell?
and as usual the Cap’n was telling a story.
“So there was the barkentine ship stranded on the shoals, the shallow sand bars that grab a ship during a storm and hang onto her while fierce ocean waves tear her apart.”
The Cap’n rubbed his short, grey-black beard (he wore no mustache) and continued “Ten men were clingin’ to the wreckage knowin’ they was about to join the hundreds of shipwreck victims whose bones were scattered all along the coasts of the Banks. Huge Atlantic breakers were rollin’ past her in to shore, and one of those waves had already taken the captain’s own wife and two sons, and also the cabin boy, and washed the four of ‘em to their watery deaths."
The Cap’n took a long draw through his pipe. It had gone out. “It was August of Eighteen Ninety-nine, and Rasmus Midgett was on duty protectin’ lives. He was ridin’ his pony along the shore, keepin’ his eyes always to the sea, just north of Cape Hatteras. When he finally came opposite the wrecked ship she was startin’ to break up in the waves and he knew he’d have no time to get help. He waited for one huge breaker to crash onto shore and then ran out in the water to shout some instructions, then back to shore before the next breaker came in.
“Then during the next pause he went scramblin’ through the water to where a crewman was slidin’ down the rope to meet him; Midgett grabbed the crewman and dragged him to safety on the beach before the next breaker arrived. Then he waited for a pause between breakers and rushed out again for another rescue. He did this again and again until he had seven survivors on the beach.”
Tim always liked this story; he went to school with Rasmus Midgett’s great-grandchildren.
The Cap’n continued “But that was th’ easy part. They told him there were still three men on the wreckage, too badly injured to walk. Already exhausted, he dashed out again to the barkentine, grabbed the rope, and pulled himself hand-over-hand onto the deck. He threw one of those men over his shoulders, slid down the ropes into the angry surf, and fought the waves back to shore. It was a superhuman feat but he couldn’t rest yet; two more men needed carryin’ to shore. Twice more he fought the waves, climbed the rope, and carried a full-grown man to safety.”
“A truly amazin’ story, Cap’n, if it’s true,” said the young man.
“Aye, it’s true enough. There has been hundreds of shipwrecks along these treacherous shoals, down through th’ years. That was before steel hulls replaced wood planking and diesel engines replaced sails. An’ Midgett was one of a handful of Bankers honored by our country’s highest civilian award, The Gold Lifesaving Medal of Honor.”
The Cap’n looked at Tim. “What d’ye have in yer jacket, lad?”
“Something I found,” Tim replied. “I’ll show it to you later.” The Cap’n was Tim’s father. Sometimes when they were alone Tim called him “Dad” but usually he called him “Cap’n” the same as everybody else.
The young couple thought quietly about the heroic tale they had just heard. Then the bride said “I can’t be sure whether the stories y’all have been telling us are fact or fiction.”
The Cap’n opened his pocketknife and cleaned the burnt tobacco from the bowl of his pipe. “That’s easy enough to answer,” he replied. “If you find yourself startin’ to believe a story I’m tellin’, then it’s pure legend. But if I tell a story yer sure can’t possibly be true, why then, it’s the gospel truth.”
Tim knew that the story of Rasmus Midgett was true. There had been so much courage, so much heroism, here on the Banks where Tim was born, that those deeds of valor had become a part of Tim. He felt as if he had been there.
The young couple paid their bill and the bell on the door jingled as they left. “Now lad,” said the Cap’n, “What’s wrapped in yer jacket?”
Tim unwrapped the skull and handed it to the Cap’n. “I found it in the Sound, just this way from the Sea and Sound Restaurant.”
The Cap’n examined the skull with interest. “I suggest ye notify the police without delay.”
Tim phoned the Ocracoke police while the Cap’n continued examining the skull.
Chief Branson’s police cruiser arrived eight minutes later.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” he said as he studied the skull. “I’ll have Doc Johnson make some tests at his medical lab in Hatteras.” He took the skull and got in the cruiser and drove northeast, toward the ferry which takes cars across Hatteras inlet.
“I wonder who he is,” said Tim, thinking about the skull. “A murder victim? A drowned fisherman?”
The Cap’n shook his head. “Whoever he is, his cause of death is of no concern to us. He’s been dead two hundred years.”
Tim looked at his father in amazement. “You could tell that just by looking at the skull?”
“Aye, and there’s more. It’s been sealed in a watertight pirate chest all these years.”
“How can you tell that?” asked Tim, with a rising sense of excitement.
A smile creased the Cap’n’s leathery face. “That’ll be my secret ‘til we find out whether I’m right or wrong. Then I’ll tell ye the basis of my opinion.”
“How did the skull get out into the water?” asked Tim.
“Don’t rightly know, but I suspicion somethin’ caused the chest to break open.”
Pirate treassure! What a thing to daydream about. What an adventurous thing to search for . . . . and perhaps find! “Cap’n,” said Tim, “I’m going to find that treasure chest.”
The Cap’n took a long puff on his pipe. “If ye’ve set yer mind to findin’ it, lad, then I believe ye’ll find it. You’re the type of lad who accomplishes whatever ye set yer mind to.”
The bell on the door jingled as a woman came in carrying a partially knitted blue sweater. “I ran out of yarn,” she said. “Do you have any, this color?”
“Sorry,” said the Cap’n. “I sell no yarn.”
“Then why,” she demanded, “do you call your place the Yarn Box?”
“On account of it’s my perfession, mum,” he said. “I sell food for fishes and I sell food for people, but those are just my side lines. My perfession is – I spins yarns. And spinnin’ yarns – tellin’ tales – can bring more warmth to a blustery night on the Banks than that beautiful sweater yer knittin’.
“Take for example the subject of ghosts. There are more ghosts walkin’ the Banks than anywhere else in the USA and some of ‘em I has met personal. Some time ago I met the ghost of a pirate who was hanged on the gallows, and . . .”
But the woman had no time for ghost stories. The bell jingled and the door slammed as she left.
“Cap’n,” said Tim, “I think I know where to look for the pirate chest.”
“You know where that contractor, Mr. Jenkins, was putting in the new water pipe for the Sea and Sound Restaurant? I think their power shovel broke right through that chest.”
“Sounds likely enough,” agreed the Cap’n. “At least it’s a good place to start.”
They ate supper, and then Tim started doing his homework. The phone rang, and he answered, and as he talked his face broke into a huge grin. “Was it a treasure chest?” he asked. Finally he hung up and turned toward the Cap’n. “Yippee! You were right! Chief Branson said they made some tests and the skull is at least two hundred years old, and from its condition it must have been sealed up in a container. Of course they don’t know it was a treasure chest.”
The Cap’n smiled and took his son’s outstretched hand and they shook vigorously.
“Now,” said Tim, “You promised you’d tell me how you knew.”
On Thursday, Kathy Jackson rode the school bus home in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. She always sat next to Lateesha because they were best friends, but sometimes it was hard to understand why. They spent most of their time arguing, and Kathy would have enjoyed their arguments except Lateesha usually won.
“I’m having a real adventure this week-end, Lateesha. Dad isn’t working Saturday so we’re driving down to Ocracoke Island.”
“That is so retarded, Kathy. It’s no adventure. I been there lots of times. You’ll be cooped up in a car all week-end with your parents and nerdy little brother.”
“Jeremy isn’t that bad,” said Kathy, “he’s just a normal little kid. And taking the car on the ferry boat from Hatteras to Ocracoke, that’s an adventure. Staying in a motel, that’s an adventure. Sunbathing by the ocean, that’s an adventure.”
“Oh, sure. Get yourself a good enough sun tan and I can tell people you’re my sister – except for your red hair. But who wants to sunbathe where the wind is so fierce it tears the skin right off your bones?”
“But there are all kinds of interesting things to see there,” said Kathy.
“Oh, sure. There’s a lighthouse,” said Lateesha in a sing songy voice. "There’s where a ship sunk, fifty years ago. There’s where another ship sunk, a hundred years ago. There’s where another ship sunk - - - .”
“Hundreds of ships have sunk there,” interrupted Kathy. “That’s why they call it ‘The Graveyard of the Atlantic.’”
“If you want to spend your weekend in a graveyard go ahead, but it’s not an adventure. An adventure is when something exciting and different happens – something you’re not expecting, like you get captured by an alien spaceship or you get rescued by a handsome knight riding on horseback or--"
“Something really exciting is going to happen, Lateesha. Something that might get my name in the papers. I don’t know what it is, but I just know it’s going to happen because I have a permenation.”
“The word is premonition,” said Lateesha. “But your week-end is going to be borING. An adventure has to be dangerous. Nothin’ dangerous or exciting is going to happen.”
“Yes it will, too, Lateesha. I’ll bet you a million dollars it does.”
“You don’t have a million dollars. But I’ll make you a real bet. If something really exciting happens, something really cool that doesn’t happen to a thousand other tourists, then I’ll tell everybody at school you’re right and I’m wrong, if you’ll agree to – no! Even better.
“I have a plain white tee shirt I never wear, and if you’re right I’ll paint on it ‘Kathy Jackson is right and I’m stupid,’ and wear it to school if you’ll agree to paint it with my name on it and wear it to school if I’m right.”
“O.K., except instead of ‘stupid’ make it ‘I’m a doofus.’ That’s a funnier sounding word.”
“That’s O.K. with me.”
Kathy stood up and shook her friend’s hand. “You’re on!” she said and started down the aisle. “Here’s my house.”
Cap’n McConagee smiled as he repeated his son’s question. “How do I know the skull came from a treasure chest? Tim, my lad, let me show you something I found.” He reached into his jacket pocket and handed Tim a heavy piece of jewelry. It was a crucifix made partly of silver, tarnished grey. It was about three inches long; the center was a gleaming gold colored metal and the cross was decorated with a dozen large jewels, some green and some colorless.
“I’ve seen pictures of jewelry brought up from sunken Spanish ships,” Tim said. “This looks like jewelry worn by rich Spanish people, hundreds of years ago.”
Very rich people,” nodded the Cap’n. “That yellow metal, I’m sure is gold, and those jewels, unless I’m badly mistaken, are diamonds and emeralds.”
“Where,” asked Tim, “and when, did you find it?”
“As for the when of your question,” said the Cap’n, “I found it while you were makin’ your call to the police. As for the where of your question, why lad, I found it inside the skull.”
Tim knew the treasure hunt would start the next day so he went to bed. His bedroom was nothing more than a large closet behind the potbelly stove which warmed the store in the winter. There was a curtain across the door for privacy.
On the wall was taped a large hand-drawn map of the Outer Banks. Tim had drawn the map and he kept adding to it whenever there was something interesting to add. He picked up his pencil and lettered, as neatly as he could, “WHERE I FOUND THE SKULL.”
Beside his bed stood a large old safe with a combination dial on the door. It was a much larger safe than the Yarn Box needed but it had been there in that same building since before the Cap’n was born. Tim used the safe as his dresser, and on it he kept a comb and brush and some of his favorite books standing between two conch shells. The books were Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, and Robinson Crusoe.
In front of the books stood an ivory-colored tusk five inches tall. It was a whale’s tooth. On its polished surface had been carved the likeness of a bearded man who looked very much like the Cap’n. It was scrimshaw, the art of whaling men who used to while away long hours at sea by taking jackknife and file and carving pictures and designs on whalebone, walrus ivory, or whale ivory.
The picture was of the Cap’n’s ancestor, Ezekial McConagee. Grandfather Zeke was Tim’s great-great (nine greats by Tim’s count) grandfather. Little was known about him except that he was captain of a herring trawler. He and his crew would throw nets out along the ocean’s floor and, with luck, they’d pull them back in with herring.
Tim had always thought he’d like to be a herring fisherman. Maybe that was because of the pretty woman he could barely remember who used to rock him to sleep singing a lullaby,
The little stars are the herring fish
that live in that beautiful sea,
‘So cast your nets wherever you wish,
never afeared are we,’
so cried the stars to the fishermen three,
Wynken, Blinken, and Nod.
Everyone knew that Grandfather Zeke had disgraced the family name of McConagee, and everybody knew that Zeke’s scrimshaw held all the luck of the McConagees. Some said that keeping the scrimshaw brought good luck, and some said that losing it would bring bad luck. Others said there wasn’t much difference between the two; Zeke’s scrimshaw must be kept and protected.
Tim had asked his father “But what did Grandfather Zeke do that was so disgraceful?”
“Don’t rightly know,” replied the Cap’n. “I asked my great grandfather that question and he said he asked his own great-grandfather that same question, and all we know is that Zeke disgraced the family.”
Everyone knew one thing: that Grandfather Zeke was responsible for the McConagee luck, good and bad. When Tim flunked his algebra test he’d say “It’s because of Grandfather Zeke’s disgrace.” When Tim aced his English theme people would say “It’s because of Zeke’s scrimshaw.”
As Tim sat on his bed he heard the door bell jingle and a man say “Do you have any size C flashlight batteries?”
“There on th’ rack,” said the Cap’n. “Are you campin’?”
“Yes,” said the customer, “I’m in the camper with my wife and three-year-old daughter.”
“Have you shown the young-un Ocracoke inlet?”
“No. What’s there?”
“It ain’t what’s there. It’s what happened there in the year Seventeen-Seventeen. There’s a bay there we call “Teach’s hole” and it’s named for Ned Teach who fought his last battle there. He was better known as Blackbeard the Pirate.
“The most frightenin’ man in world he was, with huge crooked nose, an’ bulgin’ bloodshot eyes, and slobberin’ lips, and a filthy long black beard he was very careful never to wash. He wore a cutlass at his side and six pistols in his sash, for those were single-shot pistols and once you fired you couldn’t fire again without stoppin’ to re-load.
“An’ he had a delightful sense o’ humor. He was known to shoot one of his own men in the knee purely as a practical joke.
“Blackbeard was robbin ships and killin' those who resisted him all up and down the coast of Virginia and Carolinas. The Royal Governor of North Carolina was in league with him and was helpin’ him sell his loot for a percentage. But the Governor of Virginia was honest, and sent out two British sloops o’ war to find Blackbeard. And to the commander, Lieutenant Maynard of His Majesty’s Navy, he gave strict orders to bring back Blackbeard dead or alive.
“They found Blackbeard’s ship hidin’ in Teach’s hole. Blackbeard destroyed one of the sloops with a broadside from his cannons. Then he fired on the other sloop, the one with Maynard aboard, and when the smoke cleared he saw only two men left, Maynard and one other.
“Well, the pirates threw out their ropes and grappling hooks and climbed aboard the sloop to finish off those last two. But it was Maynard’s trick.
“The hatches opened and out jumped the sailors with swords and pistols. Then the fierce battle began, and before long the deck was covered with bodies and slippery with blood. The sailors fought with rapiers – those were light slender swords you’d use to thrust away at your enemy, and the pirates fought with cutlasses – those were broad heavy swords you’d use to slash away at your enemy. With a cutlass you have to keep swinging your sword forehand and backhand, forehand and backhand, without ever stoppin’.
After half an hour of swingin’ those ten pound cutlasses the pirates’ arms were so tired they had to start switchin’ to their left hands, then back to their right, an’ more an’ more those rapiers were findin’ their mark. Finally all the pirates were killed or captured but one.
“Blackbeard kept on screamin’ and fightin’, swinging his cutlas, fighting Maynard and several other sailors at once while they were slicing him with their swords and shooting him with their pistols and at last he screamed once more, closed his eyes and died, and then crashed down on the deck. They found five pistol balls in him, and twenty sword wounds, and he died standin’ up.
“Then Maynard said ‘cut off his head to make sure he’s dead!’ And when Maynards’ sloop sailed back to Virginia and up th’ Chesapeake, what do you think people saw on the bowsprit – that’s the part of the hull that projects farthest forw’rd to hold th’ jib, what do you think they saw?”
“I don’t know,” said the customer, “What?”
“Why, tied to the bowsprit they saw the head of an ugly man with a long black beard. Of course you may not want to tell the little tyke that. That’s your decision. It’s up to you.”
Tim went to sleep. He dreamed of good people, courageous people who had lived on the banks and who gave their lives trying to rescue those who clung to disintegrating wreckage of ships. He dreamed of those whose spirit of adventure had led them to sail savage seas to begin colonies in the wilderness of the Outer Banks, four hundred years ago.
He dreamed of the stories he often heard from the old sailors who spent long winter evenings sitting around the potbelly stove trading yarns with the Cap’n -- about the ghost sailing ships that would appear from the fog at night while the sailors were at sea -- stories about an entire fleet of sailing ships that sailed Pamlico Sound all the way from Roanoke down to Cape Lookout.
“Ye can see ‘em an’ suddenly they become invisible an’ no-one knows why,” a ferry boat deck hand once said, warming himself by the stove. “An’ when they’re visible they becomes solid, an’ ye could walk their decks if ye could get aboard, an’ they can ram your ship an’ ye’ll sink, just as surely as if they was real.
“They fight each other an’ sometimes sink each other but later re-appears to sail th’ seas again.
“An’ if yer ship was ever so unlucky as t’ get drawn into that evil fleet, why then ye could never hope to come back out again.”
There had been in the store a young Coast Guard officer who laughed at the deck hand. He had stopped at the Yarn Box for a cup of coffee and asked “Didja ever see a ghost?”
“I has seen ‘em on occasion.”
“Did they jump out and go Boo?” grinned the skeptic.
The deck hand glared at the young man, and then paused to throw a block of wood into the stove. “No, Ensign W’atever-yer-name-is. But sometimes when you’re alone an’ th’ night is fallin’ ye can hear people talkin’. Ye can hear the echoes of conversations of hundreds of years past – evil people plannin’ their evil deeds. An then ye know th’ ghosts are not far off. If ye look close ye may be able to see ‘em.”
“And just what do they look like? Guys wearing bed sheets? Or skeletons? Or what?”
“It depends. Sometimes they’re visible. But mostly they chooses t’ be invisible an’ all ye can see are their shadows.”
“Hold it right there, my friend. If something’s invisible it can’t very well cast a shadow, now can it?”
“They need not follow our rules,” snapped the deck hand. “They b’longs to another world.”
Tim dreamed of the ghosts of evil people who had lived on the Banks years ago and had lured ships onto the shoals in order to rob them. He dreamed of the ghosts of pirates who had sailed these seas and who had cruelly treated their victims and who had died in bloody shipboard battles. And he dreamed that these ghosts were walking up and down the shores of Ocracoke, even now while Tim slept, walking up and down, up and down. And when Tim next opened his eyes it was to see the cold light of the morning sun creeping in through the windows.
THE GHOST OF THE CABIN BOY
The next day was Friday and Kathy sat down next to Lateesha on the way to school. Lateesha opened her book bag. “Look, girl,” she said, taking out a white tee shirt. In bright red fabric paint it spelled out the words
IS RIGHT AND I’M A DOOFUS
“It’s all finished except for adding Lateesha Smith at the top. I’m telling everyone in sixth grade about our bet. Want to try it on to see how it fits?”
“I don’t plan on wearing it, ol’ buddy,” said Kathy. “Dad always says if you go after what you want, you’ll get it. So the first time I see a really exciting adventure getting ready to happen, I’ll just go for it."
A hundred miles away, Tim’s day at school was good and bad. Social Sciences was good because they were studying about the oceans of the world. Math was bad because they were studying algebra and Tim didn’t understand it. Gym was good because they played volleyball. English was bad because they had a vocabulary test and Tim had forgotten to study for it. And of course lunch period was always good because Tim was always hungry.
Walking home from school he looked out at the Sound and imagined tall-masted ships flying black flags with white skulls and crossbones. He could hardly wait to start searching for treasure.
But when he got home the Cap’n asked him to help change the oil in their rusty Chevy pickup, and by the time they were finished it was time for supper, so it was evening by the time he was ready for the hunt. He got their dinghy – a fifteen foot rowboat – out of the boathouse. He left the outboard motor behind because he was trying to be the best oarsman on Ocracoke and practiced rowing every chance he got.
He landed on the beach near the restaurant, where a power shovel had been digging a few days before while the tide was out. The tide had wiped out all signs of excavation.
The wind was blowing strongly. They sun had already dipped into the horizon and Tim knew that in a few minutes it would be dark. As he was deciding on the best place to start, he heard voices. Or perhaps they were only – the echoes of voices. Something about those sounds made Tim feel that he was listening to people who had died many years ago. Something told him that conversation had been echoing back and forth across the beaches of Ocracoke for the past two centuries.
Above the roaring of the wind Tim heard two men’s voices and the voice of a boy, just a few feet away. Tim could see nothing but an occasional moving shadow in the twilight. He could hear the sound of spades digging in the sand and the sound of the sand being packed down with spades, as if some-one had just filled up a hole. The man nearest Tim had a voice that was smooth and flowing, like oil, and the farthest away had a voice that was as harsh and grating as the pile of fish scales you have left after cleaning a catch of mackerel.
“Well, Ezra," said the oily voice, “the chest is well hidden. I think she’s secure.”
“I hopes so,” said the fish scale voice. “There’s enough gold an’ jewels in that box t’ make the three of us rich men the rest of our lives.”
The man with the oily voice said “I also put in the ship’s log and a few other things.”
“Ship’s log?” asked the boy. “What did you say in the log about the bird-brained way you wrecked our ship?”
“That’s something I’ll tell you,” said the voice, not-so-oily now, “so we can all agree on it. I wrote in the log: Tenth day of September, year of our Lord Seventeen hundred and Eighty-one. On this day our ship the Barracuda was wrecked on the shoals off Ocracoke in a fierce Atlantic storm --”
“It wasn’t such a fierce storm,” snorted the boy. “We’ve been through worse storms. The problem wasn’t bad weather but bad sailing.”
“We’ll never say anything about a few minor errors, will we?” said the oily voice. “I then went on to write “Captain Fear and all but three perished in the shipwreck. Those left are Ezra Keene (ship’s cook), Jamie Black (cabin boy), and myself – signed Jonah Atkins (first mate)”
“Why d’ye keep a log in th’ first place?” growled Ezra Keene. “Log books are for ships on legal business, not for us.”
“Aha!” said Atkins. “And just what would happen to you if the King’s Navy would ever catch you?”
“They’d hang me for piracy, o’course.”
“Maybe not,” said Atkins. “We’d only have to retrieve that book an’ it could save your life, for it shows us to be a honest merchant ship carryin’ legal cargo from one port to another.
“Same reason we wanted a cabin boy in th’ first place. It gives us a look of respectability.
“Jamie my lad, Ezra and I will go up along the banks to see if we can find a refuge where they’re friendly to pirates. You, lad, wait here and if you see a pirate ship you recognize build a signal fire to stop ‘em and tell ‘em to pick us up here in one week an’ we’ll join their crew.”
“A fine thing you’re doin’ mate!” snorted Ezra, “leavin’ the lad to fend for himself. Ain’t it enough we took ‘im from ‘is mother’s arms to join our crew of murderin’ cut-throats at ‘is tender age?”
“Twelve years old ain’t a tender age, mate!” snapped Jamie, the cabin boy of the Barracuda. "I’m as good a man as th’ either of you. And while I’m here nobody’ll get close to the buried chest."
“Hear th’ lad, Ezra!” smiled Atkins. “And besides, we’re not murderin’ cut-throats – piracy is a honorable profession. Jamie lad, we’ll leave you a week’s supply of food; the water in the Sound is drinkable and you can find driftwood for fires. And if anyone stops here and suspects we’ve left buried treasure, lead ‘em to think it’s at Hatteras, not at Ocracoke. Guard that treasure with your life, lad.” Then the conversation faded into silence.
Tim wondered whether to feel frightened or happy. At least that conversation from the distant past told him he was looking in the right place.
But then something brought real terror to his heart. A mist blew in from the sea and circled about Tim and formed a cloud, and the cloud formed itself into the figure of a man, a very young man about Tim’s age. The figure wore a coarse blue shirt, torn trousers, and a scarf around his head, and was barefoot. He wore a long knife in the sash around his waist. The figure looked at Tim through empty eye sockets. “The ghost of the cabin boy,” thought Tim.
Tim clamped his teeth and worked up his courage and then said “—hello, Jamie lad.”
The figure stared at him, then answered in a hollow voice, like someone speaking in a long tunnel, “The treasure is not here. The treasure is buried at Hatteras.”
Then the figure went away the way smoke rings go away when the Cap’n is smoking his pipe and blows smoke rings and they drift up toward the ceiling and you can see them and then you can’t see them anymore. That’s the way the ghost of the cabin boy went away.
Tim felt himself shivering. “He’s lying,” thought Tim. “The first mate told him to lead people to think the treasure is at Hatteras. And now, more than two hundred years later, Jamie is still following orders.
“But he’s making a mistake. He’s really telling me what I wanted to know. Now I know this is where I should dig. So tomorrow I’ll bring a shovel and start digging.”
The evening was growing cold and Tim was shivering. He slipped the dinghy back into the Sound and rowed back home.
Tim went into his bedroom, closed the curtain and sat on the bed. He looked at the scrimshaw and said softly “Well, Grandfather Zeke, send me good luck tomorrow. I’ll be searching for treasure but it won’t be easy. There’s a ghost of a pirate boy and unless I miss my guess he’s going to be fighting me every inch of the way.”
Tim laid his head on the pillow and wondered “How do you fight a ghost?”
“Maybe Lateesha was right,” thought Kathy. The drive to Ocracoke, after school on Friday, wasn’t much of an adventure. Four-year-old Jeremy kept making slurping noises as they rode and when Kathy asked him to stop he did it all the more because he knew how much it annoyed her.
As she had been getting off the bus an hour before Lateesha had given her a quick hug and said “I truly hope you have yourself a nice weekend, ol’ friend. But there won’t be any adventures.”
She had looked forward most of all to crossing Hatteras Inlet on the ferry boat, but it was her job to watch Jeremy and he kept running out of her sight and trying to find a place to get down to the water to try out his new sailboat. She wasn’t able to stand there and watch the water flow past. She didn’t have time to hold up crackers and let the gulls pluck them from her hand.
“Lateesha was right again,” she thought. “My little brother is a nerd.”
Then they landed and began driving south through Ocracoke Island. “Mom,” said Kathy “when you and Uncle Larry were children, growing up --”
“Was Uncle Larry as much of a nerd as my little brother?”
“Well,” said Mom, “We argued, the same as most brothers and sisters.”
It was dark by the time they checked into their motel in Ocracoke. In the motel coffee shop Jeremy asked the waitress for pancakes and French toast, and when Dad said “You may have one or the other but not both,” Jeremy started to cry.
“Jeremy!” snapped Kathy. “Stop crying and pretend you’re human.”
Dad told Kathy he didn’t want to hear any more arguing and he didn’t want her saying any more to her brother. Then he changed the subject to “What’s your favorite class this year?”
“English,” replied Kathy, sweetly. "Miss Johnson is teaching us to write different kinds of letters. For my next assignment I think I’ll write to the Guinness Book of World Records. I’ll tell them I have a new record for the world’s most ignorant brother.”
“Another crack like that, Young Lady,” said Dad, “and we’ll go right back to the car and start back to Elizabeth City.”
“That suits me fine," said Jeremy. “Who wants a boring trip like this anyway?”
Then the family went to their room, with two queen-size beds, and Mom adjusted the shower for Jeremy and said “Step in. You’re old enough to shower by yourself.” But a few minutes later they saw water running across the bathroom floor. Jeremy had plugged the shower drain with his wash cloth.
“I just wanted a place to sail my boat,” he explained. Mom called the desk to ask for a mop.
But Kathy said to herself “Being the older child is a bummer. They’d have paddled my behind if I’d done that at his age.”
A matronly woman brought the mop to the door and asked “Everything else alright?”
“Tell me,” asked Kathy, “is there anything really exciting to do here? I mean, something most tourists don’t know anything about?”
“There sure is!" replied the woman. “Cap’n McConagee has a store on th’ Sound side about a mile north o’ here. He’ll regale ye with tales about ghosts an’ darin’ sea rescues an’ that sort o’ thing.”
“Just what I need,” thought Kathy, glumly. “When a certain someone at school asks if anything really exciting happened I’ll say ‘Oh, yes! I heard some old man telling a bunch of ghost stories.’”
Tears welled up in her eyes when she went to bed, but Jeremy snuggled up to his sister and asked “This is fun, isn’t it Kathy?”
She patted his shoulder and said “I guess so, but I hope my adventure begins soon.”
THE SEARCH OF THE OCEAN FLOOR
A mile up the coast, Tim slept well that night. His sleep was deep, and his dreams were deep, as deep as the Atlantic. His dreams wandered the floor of the Atlantic where the pressure was great and the sunlight was dim and cold, where the seaweed was unlike any he had seen at shallower depths, where the fish were drab and grey because they lived at the bottom of the sea where the pressure was great and the sunlight was dim and cold and they had no need of the brilliant colors that adorn their cousins who live near the surface of the sea.
A specter swept across the bottom of the sea. Tim’s dream followed. The specter wore a coarse shirt and torn trousers and a head scarf, and had bare feet, and a long knife in its sash. The specter moved swiftly over underwater cliffs and through underwater valleys, and came to the wreck of an ancient schooner, her hull encrusted with shellfish and her sails and rigging hanging in shreds. The specter boarded the schooner and went inside, then emerged a moment later and went on.
Tim’s dream followed the specter from one shipwreck to another; the specter was always looking, inquiring, seeking. It came to the stern end of a ship half buried in the sand. Across her transom was her name, the Bonnie Belle. With Tim following, the specter went aboard and opened a door aft of the deck and went inside. The sign on the door read “Captain’s Quarters.”
A skeleton sat at a table with his charts spread out before him and a knife clutched in his bony hand.
“Has I the honor,” said the specter, “of addressin’ the captain of the Bonnie Belle?”
“Captain Bruce Macgregor, at yer service,” said the skeleton, jabbing the blade into the soggy wood of the table. “Take no offense at the knife. I thought ye might be one of those treasure hunters preparin’ to rob my hold, in which case I was preparin’ to cut yer air hose as I has done to so many others. Who be ye?”
“Jamie Black, cabin boy of the Barracuda,” replied the specter.
Macgregor jumped to his feet. “I know the Barracuda,” he shouted. “She’s a pirate! I hate pirates. I been twice robbed by pirates.” He sat down and sighed. "But that was in life, laddie. In death we is all shipmates. What are ye seekin’?”
“I am seekin’,” said Jamie Black, "the bones of Ezekiel McConagee.”
“McConagee?” said Macgregor, shoo-ing away a small fish that had been circling annoyingly in front of his face. “McConagee? McConagee?” He jumped to his feet. “Now I remember,” he shouted. “He’s a pirate! He was a honest fisherman ‘til he disgraced his family by joinin’ a pirate crew.
“But in death we is all shipmates.” Macgregor sighed and sat down. “Those be good words t’ chart yer course by, laddie. I have no ken o’ where Ezekiel’s bones may be, but if ye course about two-score leagues east-nor-east ye’ll come to the wreck of a pirate ship, the Vengeance. She went down in a storm with all hands. They are all pirates and I tolerates ‘em but I don’t socialize with ‘em. Perhaps they can tell ye where Ezekiel lies at rest.”
Jamie thanked Macgregor and left. Tim’s dream followed east-nor-east until they came to the hull of a barkentine lying on her side, a torn jolly roger hanging from her broken foremast. Her crew of about twenty skeletons came to the rail, grinning, holding tightly to the rail because of the steeply sloping deck.
“Ahoy the Vengeance,” called Jamie. “Know ye where lie the bones of Ezekiel McConagee?"
“He was a member of our crew, the Devil take ‘im,” called th’ pirate in the middle. “He had a scrimshaw that held all th’ luck o’ the McConagees but he left it ahind ‘im when we put to sea, an’ due to his carelessness we lost our ship an’ all lives aboard. So we cast him adrift in a small boat; ye’ll find him somewhere hereabouts.”
Tim’s dream followed Jamie in ever-widening circles till they came to a life boat resting on the ocean’s floor. A skeleton was sitting on the thwart seat. He held a piece of whalebone in one bony hand, and a jackknife in the other, and he was whittling. A few grey fish were swimming around the knife and whalebone, admiring the workmanship.
The skeleton held a pipe between his teeth, but the light had gone out several centuries before.
“Ahoy, Ezekiel McConagee” called Jamie.
“Come aboar-rd,” said Ezekiel. His voice sounded like the Cap’n’s except he rolled his R’s the way Irish people do. “Take a seat in the ster-n.”
“I’m sorry your mates have cast you adrift,” said Jamie. “Maybe I can help you.”
“Sure an’ why would you be helpin’ me?”
“’Cause in death we is all shipmates,” said Jamie. “I heard that whoever holds Zeke’s scrimshaw holds the luck o’ the McConagees, both good an’ bad.”
“It’s right ye be. More good than bad, I hopes."
“A little too much good luck,” said Jamie. “You have a great-great-great grandson named Tim. I came to ask you a favor.”
“Why? What’s in it for me?”
“Your scrimshaw’s in it for you,” said Jamie.
“My lucky scrimshaw!” exclaimed Ezekiel.
“If I bring you the scrimshaw,” said Jamie, “will you send Tim bad luck?”
“My lucky scrimshaw!” said Ezekiel. “Why, if I had it back again my mates would welcome me back aboard with open ar-rms.”
Tim drifted back into a deep sleep, and afterward had forgotten all about his dream.
THE SWORD FIGHT WITH THE GHOST
“What’re we going to do today, Kathy?” asked Jeremy, as he took off his pajamas.
His sister was tying her shoes. “Well, you’re going to have a really neat time with Mom and Dad. But as soon as I see an adventure getting ready to happen, if it’s exciting or even if it’s dangerous, I’m going for it.”
Early Saturday morning at the yarn box the Cap’n took the pickup onto the ferry and then to the mainland for supplies, and it was Tim’s job to mind the store.
Between customers Tim planned the search. Mr. Jenkins had put the waterline across the beach when the tide was out; Tim would have to dig for treasure when the tide was out, too.
Last year in science class Tim had done a report on the tides. Everybody in class lived near the sea; they knew the tide comes in twice a day and goes out twice a day. Tim reported that the tide is high when the moon passes overhead and pulls the water of the ocean upward by the force of gravity. About twelve hours later the moon passes over the opposite side of the earth and the tide rises again because the moon pulls the solid part of the earth downward, away from the water. The phase of the moon affects the time of day the moon passes overhead so it also controls the time of day of high and low tide.
As he made plans for treasure he remembered the moon was full; the tide would be high about noon and midnight.
On the wall was a schedule of the tides for each day, printed by the U.S. Coast Guard. It was right under the embroidery Tim’s aunt had presented to the Cap’n, with the words:
I must go down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
and all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by –
According to the schedule of tides for that date, high tide would be at 11:57 A.M. and low tide at 5:45 P.M. Tim figured that if he went over about two in the afternoon the tide would be out enough to work.
Tim looked out the window to watch the tide coming in. Children and adults were flying kites in the strong, steady wind. If there’s one thing the Outer Banks is famous for besides shipwrecks it’s their strong, steady wind. Back in Nineteen Oh–three the Wright brothers came here all the way from Ohio for the world’s first airplane flight. The thing they needed most was a strong steady wind.
A man and wife with a boy about four and a girl about eleven came into the store. The wife and both children had red hair.
“Last night,” said the father, “we heard the storekeeper here is famous as a story teller. Is he here now?”
“The Cap’n is gone for the morning,” said Tim, “but he’ll be back about twelve.”
“Are you his boy?”
“Yes, sir. I’m Tim.”
“We’re the Jacksons,” said the mother. “Jeremy and Kathy saw people flying kites as soon as we got up. Do you sell them here?”
As Tim showed them the rack filled with kites of many shapes and sizes Kathy walked past him and asked “What do you do around here if you want a real adventure?”
“Lots of things,” replied Tim. “Swimming, sightseeing, fishing" -
“I know that,” agreed Kathy, “every tourist knows that.” Her voice became very low. “But let’s say you were really bored, and you went out this very afternoon to have an adventure that was really exciting and maybe even dangerous and not like anything you’d ever done before, what would you be doing?”
Tim stopped and stared at her. “How did you know about that?” he whispered.
Kathy was about to say “Know about what?” but instead smiled mysteriously and turned away.
Mr. Jackson paid for two kites, and the doorbell jingled as the family left.
As they drove away Kathy asked “Can we go back there sometime? I’d like to hear the Cap’n’s stories.”
“But Kathy,” said Jeremy, “you said that would be boring.”
She leaned her head close to his ear and whispered “That kid Tim has a secret and I’m going to find out what it is.”
Tim ate dinner with the Cap’n and put his tools in the dinghy and started out in time to get to the beach at the Sea and Sound by two. As he first came within sight of the beach his heart sank. The beach was covered with sheets of steel. The area where he had planned to dig was shielded by heavy, perforated steel panels, about twenty feet long, locked together at the edges.
Tim had seen panels like these before. They were used to protect the sand from erosion by the water and the ever-present wind.
As Tim beached the dinghy, Contractor Jenkins and two of his workmen were just getting out of their truck.
“What’s going on?” asked Tim.
“Got a call from the Coast Guard first thing this mornin’,” said Jenkins. “They gave me a verbal order to cover the beach and said it was an extreme emergency to keep the beach from washin’ away. Got this much done this mornin’ afore the tide come in.”
“Did you know the person that made that call?” asked Tim.
“Nope. New employee. Had a funny voice, though. Sort of low and hollow, like somebody talkin’ in a long tunnel.”
“I know who made the call,” said Tim, “and he doesn’t work for the Coast Guard. It was all a joke.”
Jenkins looked at him unbelievingly and yanked his cell phone out of his pocket. Minutes later he replaced it in his pocket, muttering angrily “Strange things happen here. Coast Guard doesn’t know a thing about it. It’ll take another three hours to get these panels pulled apart and loaded up. I’ve wasted my whole day and two men’s wages.” He looked at Tim. “You said you know who made that dang phone call. Who?”
“I can’t tell you now,” said Tim, “but I will later. I promise.”
“Well," Jenkins said to his men, “Nothin’ to do but get started.”
And there was nothing for Tim to do but row back home and wait three hours. That would be about five, and he’d have moonlight to work by.
Tim sat on his bed and moved Grandfather Zeke’s scrimshaw aside and took out Treasure Island. He read three chapters, then wolfed down two sandwiches and a glass of milk, and by then it was 5:00 P.M., time to start back to the beach.
When he and the dinghy arrived there he was dismayed to see most of the steel panels still in place, and the contractor and his men leaving. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“My men refuse to work here and so do I, said Jenkins. “I’m not a superstitious man, but strange things happen here. This beach is haunted.”
“You’ve been haunted by the ghost of a pirate boy?" asked Tim.
Jenkins looked at him long and hard. “How did you know?”
Tim answered “He was the one who made that phony phone call.”
Jenkins snarled a torrent of angry words. The three men drove off, and in their haste they left behind some of their tools: a rope, sledge hammer, and two-foot crowbar.
Tim muttered “It took three men all morning to put these panels down and now I’ll have to pull them up by myself.” But at least he didn’t have to load them back onto a truck. He found that he could use the crowbar to pry the panels apart at the edges and then use the rope to pull them to the side of the beach. It wasn’t hard to do but there were just a lot of panels to move.
Hours passed. The wind was howling and daylight was fading, and he was glad to have the light of the full moon. He looked at the few remaining panels and thought “At last I’ll get to start digging.” He picked up the crowbar to separate the last two panels and – it happened.
He heard a shriek behind him. He turned and saw, dancing across the face of the moon, swirling wisps of sea mist, which circled together and formed the figure of the pirate boy. Something glared savagely within the empty eye sockets, and in its hand the specter held its knife. With the knife outstretched it ran toward Tim, ran lightly and silently across the sand. In terror Tim swung the crowbar and knocked the knife aside in a clank of steel against steel.
The crowbar was heavy to swing – like a pirate’s cutlass. Tim remembered that when you swing a cutlass you have to keep swinging forehand and backhand, forehand and backhand, without ever stopping. His cutlass passed through the specter’s body without effect but when it met the knife againTim heard another loud clank. The knife flew out of the specter’s hand and into the sky.
The ghost of the pirate boy screamed in rage “I’ll meet you again, Tim McConagee, and I’ll meet you right here!”
"You don't scare me, Jamie! I'll be here." Like smoke rings rising to the ceiling, the specter was gone.
The knife tumbled point over hilt, point over hilt, across the darkening sky and then fell to earth with the blade in the sand, gleaming blue in the moonlight, fifty feet from where Tim stood. Tim ran to it and reached out, but before his fingers could touch the handle the knife vanished, leaving a small depression in the sand.
“Jamie!” Tim shouted to the wind and to the sky. “Wherever you are, listen to me. If it’s a fight you want you’ll get a fight. But I’ll win, Jamie! I’m going to win.”
Then the tide came in. In disbelief Tim watched the waters rushing toward him. It wasn’t yet nine; the tide shouldn’t come in for another three hours. But the tide was coming in.
Tim stood with the waves lapping at his ankles and he knew they would soon be lapping at his knees. “Blast you, Jamie!” he shouted to the sky. “Blast you!”
As the Jacksons ate breakfast on Sunday, the TV was turned on in the coffee shop.
Everyone on TV was talking about the crazy high tide along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Kathy whispered to her brother “Maybe this has something to do with my adventure.”
An expert from the Environmental Protection Agency had an explanation. “It’s an environmental disaster!” he said. “The tide came in at 8:52 P.M. last night, three hours ahead of schedule.. Now, at eight o’clock on Sunday morning the tide is still up. This is obviously a result of global warming, and according to our calculations can only happen when the sun and moon are very close together as viewed from the earth.”
Someone else then pointed out that the moon was full, meaning the sun and moon were on opposite sides of the earth.”
Other people had other explanations. The Crazy Tide resulted from a tidal wave in the Bahamas. But there was no tidal wave in the Bahamas. The Crazy tide was caused by an eclipse of the moon. But there was no eclipse of the moon.
Another scientist made a flat statement: “There is no possible way the tide can go up and stay up. What we are witnessing simply is impossible.”
Then they interviewed J. P. Jenkins, excavating contractor. “I’m no scientist,” said Jenkins, “but I know this: strange things -- impossible things -- happen here. The funny thing is, the tide is up only at the south end of Ocracoke Island. And it ain’t up on the Atlantic side but only on the Sound side. All I can say is, this island is haunted. What’s goin’ on is the work of ghosts.” The announcer thought it was a joke. He laughed. But at the Yarn box Tim was standing in front of the TV and Tim wasn’t laughing.
“Do ye think my red necktie would look O.K., Tim?” asked the Cap’n. “The one with the yellow polka dots?” It was the only tie he owned, and he wore it only on Sunday mornings. They’d be walking to church on this bright autumn day and leaving early enough to stop and chat with people on the way.
They stopped and chatted with a middle-aged couple from Chicago; the husband wore a Nikon camera on a neck strap.
Of course they talked about the Crazy Tide; that’s what everybody was talking about. Then the husband said “We were photographin’ the Hatteras lighthouse yesterday. Do you know how old it is?”
“Aye,” said the Cap’n “It was completed in Eighteen Seventy. On a clear night the light can be seen twenty miles at sea. There had been hundreds of shipwrecks along there, and many lives lost, and the light was to guide ‘em and help ‘em steer clear of the treacherous Diamond Shoals – the shallows that stretch from Hatteras Island eastward into th’ Atlantic.
“Interestin’ how they built that lighthouse. They dug far down below the ocean level and laid two layers of heavy yellow pine timbers directly on the sand; that was the first foundation. On top of that they laid a foundation of granite blocks up to ground level and then started buildin’ the lighthouse of bricks.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” said the wife. “You say that huge brick thing’s sittin’ on a underwater foundation of wood?”
“That’s right, mum,” said the Cap’n.
“Then what prevents th’ wood from rottin’ away in the water?”
“Water don’t rot wood, mum. Air rots wood. I learned that as a young man workin’ on a construction crew buildin’ wharfs and docks. Repeated wettin’ and dryin’ speeds up the rottin’ process but if you put wood underwater and leave it there it’ll never rot.
Tim started thinking “If you put a wood chest underwater it’ll still be there hundreds of years later, till Mr. Jenkins plows through it with his power shovel.”
The Cap'n continued "Shorelines keep forever changin'. A few years ago th' sea waters were washin' away the solid rocks an' a little bit farther they would've washed away th' lighthouse. So th' engineers jacked it up, that huge structure weighin' many tons of stone, an' set it on railroad tracks an' moved it nearly half a mile inland. Th' move was completed in th' year two thousand."
As they talked a seagull swooped down and with wings beating against Tim’s face, jabbed its beak fiercely into the back of his neck. Both Tim and the husband tried to grab the bird: it had sailed away.
With his handerchief the Cap’n wiped a drop of blood from his son’s neck. “Strange,” he said. “It ain’t usual for a gull to attack a human."
Tim and the Cap’n walked on. Tim began to watch the gulls, hundreds of them, circling above the Sound, and he began to worry. “Cap’n,” he said, “Why do you suppose that bird attacked me?”
“Tim, there are crazy things goin’ on. The tide is up an’ won’t go out. The gulls don’t understand it any more’n we do and it’s likely they’ll do some unusual things.”
* * * *
Tim liked the sermon that morning for it was about a storm on the sea of Galilee.
And there arose a great storm of wind,
and the waves beat upon the ship,
so that it was now full.
Tim pictured the disciples aboard that ship, terrified that they would be swallowed up by the sea. Tim’s eyelids felt heavy. He knew that many people and many ships had been swallowed up by the sea.
More than four hundred fifty years ago the first European ship, a Spanish brigantine, sunk near the Banks in a terrible storm, and since that time more than six hundred fifty ships have gone down in those waters. Often today the Atlantic groans with indigestion and coughs up onto the beach the hulk of one of the ships it swallowed so greedily a hundred years before. Then tourists love to take pictures, and their children love to play on the wreckage, pretending to be sailors and pirates. But they forget that when the shipwreck occurred it meant terror, and pain, and often death, for passengers and crew.
Many Bankers became heroes rowing small boats out through fierce ocean waves to rescue people clinging to ships breaking up on the shoals, going to their probable deaths for the slim chance of saving the lives of strangers. Tim had been there. He was a part of those brave people that had lived in the past and now they continued to live, in Tim.
Tim had been part of a crew of seven rescuers who were about to carry their small boat down to the stormy surf, with the wet snow blowing against their necks and a strong wind blowing from the land to the sea. They knew that once they got past the shelter of the land it would be impossible to ever get back again, except in the unlikely event of a change in the wind. But a ship was on the shoals off-shore and there were human lives on that ship and it was the rescuers’ duty to try.
Before they left the life-saving station they passed around papers and pencils and made out their wills. Since Tim was one of those who could read and write he helped those who couldn’t. And then they carried their surf boat down to the shore and rowed off into the teeth of death.
Miraculously, the wind died down a number of hours later and the rescuers managed to save five crewmen out of the ship’s crew of six; the storm had already swept one man off the deck, to his death.
It had happened in Eighteen Eighty-one and Tim remembered it well.
The Cap’n jabbed his elbow into Tims arm. “Wake up. lad,” he whispered.
* * * *
Walking home from church Tim began to think about a pointed steel bar about five feet long he had seen in the boat house. “Cap’n,” he said, “what if I took a five foot bar and kept pounding it all the way down into a sand beach?”
The Cap’n smiled. “Goin’ t’ try probing for treasure, are ye? Well, I suspect ye’ll have some mighty heavy poundin’ t’ do.”
“Now,” said Tim, “what if the beach is flooded with water?”
“Shouldn’t make much difference,” said the Cap’n. “Wet sand is mighty stiff.”
“I guess you’re right,” said Tim. “Well, it was just an idea.”
Then Tim thought about it. He knew what the Cap’n said was true. The Cap’n knew it was true. But would Jamie know it was true? Was it possible to fool a ghost?
Tim wondered “What if I start driving a rod into the beach where it’s flooded, looking for the pirate chest? And what if I pretend it’s easy to drive because of the high tide? And what if Jamie is watching? Won’t he let the tide go out again?”
After dinner Tim got out his winter snow suit and some heavy gloves. “Kinda rushin’ the season a bit, aren’t ye’?” asked the Cap’n.
But heavy clothing might be good protection against angry seagulls. Now all he needed was a helmet. “Do you remember where you put the bird cage after the parakeet died?” he asked.
The Cap’n looked puzzled. “I didn’t know a bird cage was standard equipment for treasure huntin’. I think it’s in the attic above th’ porch.”
Tim put this equipment, together with shovel and pick and hammer and probing bar, and some clamping pliers, in the dinghy. He put the crowbar in his belt and rowed to the beach.
Tim waded into the water where he had seen Mr. Jenkins installing the water pipe. He began driving the bar with the sledge hammer and found that the Cap’n was right; the wet sand was mighty stiff. I was hard work, but as he swung the hammer he said, loud enough for any ghost to hear, “Wow! This is sure easy with all this water here.”
Suddenly he was surrounded by a cloud of beating white wings and sharp, jabbing beaks. The seagulls had gone crazy! He ran toward the dinghy trying desperately to beat them off with his hands. He grabbed his helmet – a bird cage with the tray removed – and slipped it over his head. That much of his body was protected, but the birds kept jabbing his body and arms while he pulled on the snowsuit and gloves. The gulls continued their attack but were powerless to hurt him through the heavy clothing.
He continued pounding the steel bar with the hammer, and if it was hard work before, it was torture working in winter clothing under a warm sun, surrounded by beating, jabbing seagulls.
In a car with the name of “Elizabeth City Buick” a small red-haired boy was saying “Mommy, I saw a man pounding on the water dressed in a snowsuit with a bird cage on his head.”
His mother said “That’s nice, Jeremy. Look at that pretty sailboat away out there.” But the boy’s sister had seen the strangely dressed worker too and she thought she recognized him.
Once Tim had driven the bar all the way down he took hold of it with his clamping pliers, pulled it out, and drove it again a foot or two away. One by one the gulls stopped their attack and resumed their usual task of searching for fish. Several minutes after being left completely alone Tim took the risk of removing his protective clothing; the gulls ignored him.
As Tim swung the hammer he thought “The main idea is to look as if I’m enjoying this. But that’s hard to do when your hands are getting blistered.”
Jamie had fought him with the knife and Tim had won. Jamie had fought him with the seagulls and Tim had won. But could Tim trick Jamie into calling off the tide? “Thank you for making my job so easy, Jamie!” called out Tim.
“Who’s Jamie?” came a voice behind him. He turned and stood face to face with Kathy Jackson.
“Oh, Hi,” said Tim.
“Hi. Who’s Jamie?”
“Jamie?” said Tim. “Well, Jamie is – Jamie is a slang word we Bankers use that means the high tide.” Tim swung the hammer once more.
“I heard you say ‘Thank you Jamie.’ Why would you be thanking this goofy tide?”
"Because it’s making it so easy to drive this steel into the sand," said Tim. He pulled out the bar, moved it a foot, and began driving it again.
“My next question,” said Kathy. “Why are you driving the steel into the sand?”
“I’m looking for something that’s been lost,” said Tim. As he swung the hammer he began to chant “Thank you Jamie, whack! Thank you Jamie, whack!"
Tim felt, against his legs, the pressure of swiftly flowing water. It was flowing out toward the Sound! The tide was going out. And just in case the ghost was watching, Tim clamped his pliers on the bar and pretended he couldn’t budge it.
THE GHOST FLEET
“At last!” said Kathy. “The tide called ‘Jamie’ is going out to sea.” Tim said nothing; he only stared at the steel bar protruding about a foot above the water’s surface.
He had heard it, or maybe only felt it, with that last hammer blow. He wondered – Had Jamie heard it? Did Jamie know that Tim had felt it?
That last hammer blow felt as if the bar had struck something harder than sand but softer than rock. It felt like – wood.
Tim walked to the dinghy and picked up the shovel. “What’re you going to do now?” asked Kathy..
“It’ll be an hour before the water is out, down to the sand, but I’m going to start digging anyway.”
“Digging for what?”
“I can’t tell you,” said Tim.
Tim pitched the shovel near the steel bar, and heard it splash as he bent down to get the pick. Before he could turn around Kathy shouted “Tim! Your shovel is floating away!”
“Shovels can’t float,” Tim started to say, but he saw that it was true. The shovel was bobbing on the waves, heading steadily for the middle of Pamlico Sound..
Tim ran, splashing through the water till it was up to his knees, and finally dove. He swam furiously but it was too late. The shovel was out of his grasp and soon out of his sight. He walked back to the dinghy in disgust.
“I didn’t know shovels could float,” Kathy said in amazement.
“They can’t. There’s not enough wood in that handle to float that much steel. Lots of impossible things have been going on around here.”
“What’ll you do know?” she asked.
“Row back to the store to get our other shovel.”
“Dad was planning to bring us to meet your father,” she said. “May I ride with you?”
He was about to say “No,” but then remembered their brief conversation from yesterday. “I think she has some idea of what I’m doing” he said to himself “but I’m not sure how she knows or how much. Maybe I’d better have her on my side.”
“Your mom and dad won’t know where you are,” he said.
“They’re right over there wading in the water. Would you mind stopping on the way just long enough for me to ask?”
Tim agreed. But before getting in the dinghy he walked some distance up the beach to a small Live Oak tree bent like the letter “S”. He turned around and then walked back to the boat, counting his steps as he went. Kathy watched him, puzzled.
Tim pulled the oars toward the yarn box until they came to Mr. and Mrs. Jackson and Jeremy wading at the water’s edge.
Kathy asked if she could go with Tim, and Tim added “It’ll be safe. I’m an expert oarsman.”
Mrs. Jackson answered “So is Kathy – she won the rowing race at Girl Scout camp. Go ahead, Kathy, and we’ll meet you at McConagee’s store.”
As Tim rowed Kathy asked why he wore the crowbar in his belt. Tim was pulling hard. Between oar strokes he said “It’s really more of a sword puff! At least that’s what I use it for puff!"
“There are some weird things going on, Tim. A while ago I saw you working with a bird cage on your head. Then you were talking to an invisible ‘Jamie.’ You’re pounding a steel bar into the sand but won’t say why. And then a steel shovel floats away. What’s going on?”
“It can all be explained puff!”
“Then explain it.”
“I was wearing the bird cage puff! to protect me from puff! the seagulls puff!”
“Wouldn’t it be easier just to wash your hair afterward?”
“Take the oars, Kathy,” said Tim. “I’ll try to explain the whole thing.” Kathy took the rowing seat and the oars and -- her mother was right; Kathy knew how to row.
“I found a skull,” began Tim, and I found out it came from a buried chest of pirate treasure, hundreds of years old.” And the tale unfolded to the astonished girl, about the ghosts of pirates and the chest buried on the beach and the pirate boy that had a sword fight with Tim.
And Kathy stared in disbelief as Tim told about Jamie’s ghost bringing the tide in hours early, and sending the gulls to attack Tim.
And then Tim added “I tried to find the chest by driving that steel bar in the sand, and the very last time I hit it I think it hit the treasure chest so that’s where I’ll start digging. But before we left the beach I paced off the distance to that ‘S’ shaped Live Oak tree and it measured one hundred eight paces, so if the ghost suspects I found the chest, and pulls the bar out, I’ll be able to find the chest again.”
Kathy stopped rowing and said softly, “Tim –“
“What?” asked Tim.
“Tim,” said Kathy, “I think you’re nuts.”
Abruptly and without warning the small craft came around to portside and headed for the open Sound. Tim couldn’t blame Kathy; her oars weren’t even in the water. She immediately dipped her portside oar and pulled hard, and continued rowing to that side, trying to bring the craft back to shore, but the effort was wasted. The craft did not respond to the oars; rowing made no difference. They were headed for the center of the Sound, leaving land farther and farther behind.
Kathy turned in her seat. Looking together they saw a small square of whitish brown on the horizon. It grew into a sailing ship.
“She’s a brigantine,” said Tim, “a two master with foremast rigged for square sails and mainsail fore-and-aft. I’ve never seen one but I’ve seen pictures."
They stared at that ship; there was something strange about it. Finally Kathy said “There’s no wind in its sails.”
The wind was blowing strongly from the Banks to the Sound but the sails flapped as limply and lifelessly about the masts as if the ship had been becalmed.
“How can she move with no wind in her sails?” wondered Tim. “And she’s coming right toward us, at ten knots I’d say”
As the craft approached closer and closer, pitching from side to side, Kathy said “Tim, there’s nobody on the deck!”
Tim stared at the craft, so lifeless yet so terrifying. “She’s a ghost ship,” he whispered. “And she’s going to ram us.”
One thought rushed through their minds – “We’ll drown!”
As they stared they saw movement aboard the craft – not life but movement. Unseen hands began pulling the flag halyard, hoisting to the top of the masthead a black flag. And the wind that had no effect on the sails caught the flag and held it out for all to see – the white skull and crossbones – the pirate flag – the Jolly Roger!
And still the brigantine approached the dinghy on a collision course. Tim crawled past Kathy to the front of their boat where there lay coiled thirty feet of three-eighths-inch rope tied to a small steel anchor. He uncoiled the rope into the water, handed the anchor to Kathy and shouted “Kathy! Listen to me! When she meets us I’ll grab her prow and try to push us off to the side. You throw the anchor over her rail and maybe it’ll catch on something and we’ll have the rope to hang on to.”
The two crafts rushed together. Tim reached out both hands, and the instant he felt the ship’s prow he pushed hard to one side. The dinghy slipped off the port side of the ship, pitching wildly back and forth, as Kathy threw the anchor. The anchor arched over the ship’s rail, swung around it, caught on its own rope, and held fast. The dinghy shipped gallons of water first on one side and then on the other, and would surely have capsized if Tim had not grabbed the anchor rope to steady their small boat.
Tim tied the rope to a cleat on the prow of the dinghy. They saw, along the side of the ship, a row of gun ports high above the waterline. The iron muzzles of the guns glared out at the sea.
Across the prow was carved the ship’s name: Vengeance. Tim stared at the name for it seemed as if somewhere, perhaps in a dream, he had heard that name before.
Something brushed against Tim’s hair. It was a rope ladder, dangling down from one of the gun ports.
The old sailors say the ghost ships become solid and you could walk their decks. Tim eyed the ladder and muttered “I don’t like this. It’s almost like the ghosts are inviting us to come aboard."
Kathy stared up at the ropes and the sails and the guns. “Could we?" she asked. “I’d like to see what’s up there.”
Tim hesitated, and then grabbed the ladder. “Well, let’s find out!” They both climbed up and into the gun port.
They stood on the gun deck. Along each side of the deck was a row of cannons on their carriages, lashed to the hull. Beside each gun was lashed a keg of gunpowder, a rack of cannon balls, and a barrel of water for putting out fires from the red-hot cannons. Scattered about the deck were lashed barrels of supplies.
Tim and Kathy were not alone. Small, grey, furry creatures scurried about, between, and behind the barrels – rats. The rats ignored their human visitors.
As they walked down the deck Kathy said “It sure is quiet! It’s hard to believe this ship is sailing all by itself with nobody sailing it.”
“Maybe not,” said Tim. “The Cap’n told me once the ghost ships are sailed by invisible ghost crews.”
Kathy shivered and said “Just think, there might be a ghost standing right there, watching me, and I just can’t see him.” With a silly smile and a curtsy she said “So happy to meet you, Mr. Pirate. Do you want to order some Girl Scout cookies?”
Since there was no answer they continued walking. Aft of the gun deck was a pair of companionways – very steep stairs. One led to the deck above and the other led down into the hold.
Just ahead of Tim and Kathy stood a bulkhead athwart the ship, containing two doors. Kathy reached out for the starboard door and opened it. Beyond it was the crew’s quarters, with two rows of bunks from deck to overhead.
On each bunk was the name of the pirate who slept there. One of the names was McConagee but someone had crossed the name out. “Do you suppose you’re related?” asked Kathy, softly.”
“I think he’s my Grandfather Zeke,” said Tim. “I’m not sure why I think so. It almost seems as if I dreamed about it.”
On the deck between the bunks, with grim face turned upward, was a human skeleton dressed in coarse shirt and trousers, head scarf, and three cornered-hat. He had died fighting; his bony hand gripped the hilt of his cutlass and a long iron pike was thrust through his rib cage.
Kathy shut the door again.
A piece of heavy paper was nailed to the other door, an invitation to a party:
to all ships of the Pamlico fleet
you is heerby invited to a partee
on Ocracoke beech neer the shipwreck
of the barracuda.
“And it has today’s date on it,” said Kathy. “I don’t get it. What kind of party would ghosts be having?”
“I don’t know either, said Tim. “But I’ll tell you this – when I get back to the beach things are going to be jumping. And I’ll bet I know who sent out the invitations. And I’ll bet his name is Jamie!”
Suddenly the ship came around and headed for the open Sound.
“Where is it taking us?” asked Kathy.
“I don’t know,” said Tim, “but I’m not waiting to find out. Let’s turn her around.”
He ran to the companionway and onto the main deck, with Kathy right behind. He ran to the wheel, just forward of the mizzenmast.
Tim began turning the wheel first one way and then the other. Below, in the water under the hull, they could hear the rudder turn first to starboard and then to port. But the Vengeance ignored her own rudder as casually as she ignored the wind. She had a will of her own. She followed her own course without regard to the wind and the water.
They looked out over the prow, wondering what lay ahead, but could see nothing. Then Kathy noticed a small wooden cabinet on the side of the wheel housing. It contained a glass, a spyglass of the type mariners used before they had binoculars. She held the glass up to her eye but there was nothing to be seen.
Tim jumped to the rail, climbed up into the shrouds that were woven into rope ladders, and saw whitish objects in the far distance. “Hand me that glass!” he called. Taking it from her hand he pointed it to the direction of their course, and his heart sank.
Ahead lay a fleet of sailing ships, brigs and barkentines, sloops and schooners, twenty or thirty of them, so close together in the water that their hulls seemed to be touching. All had sails that hung limp and motionless in the stiff wind, yet all had flags that flapped, and every flag was the Jolly Roger. The words of the old deck hand came back to Tim - “If your ship was ever so unlucky as t’ get drawn into that evil fleet, why then ye’ could never hope to come back out again.”
Tim jumped down onto the deck. Kathy,” he said, “We’re headed for a fleet of ships - ghost ships - and once we get in there we’ll never come back.”
“What can we do?” she asked in fright.
Only one thing I can think of,” he said. “We’ll have to scuttle her.”
“You mean – sink our own ship?”
“We’ll have to,” he answered. “We still have the dinghy in tow; we can escape in that. But how do we scuttle her?”
She glanced down at his belt. “You still have your cutlass. Can we pry the boards apart, down on the bottom?”
Without another word the two mariners ran down both companionways into the hold. Most of the hold was filled with barrels lashed to the stanchions with rats crawling in between, but Tim and Kathy found an open space between the barrels, and stood on the planking between the massive timber ribs. A small amount of light filtered in through the grating in the hatchway above.
Tim jabbed the crowbar between the ribs and the planks and tried to pry the planking away from the ribs, but nothing happened. He threw his chest against the crowbar and pushed with his entire body, and Kathy pulled the bar with both hands, but still nothing.
“We need a longer bar,” said Tim.
Kathy ran to the companionway. “I’ll be right back,” she said.
A half minute later she ran back down the stairs, carrying a long steel bar. “Try this. I pulled it out of that skeleton.”
“Smart thinking,” said Tim. They jabbed the pike between the rib and plank and four arms strained till they ached. Then they felt something give way, and water began to trickle into the hold. They pried again and water poured in. Then they did the same at the next rib, and the next, until the entire plank floated away into the sound.
“Let’s pry the next plank off,” said Tim. And by the time they had it removed they were standing knee-deep in water.
“We’d better get out of here,” said Kathy, “before we sink.”
They started up the companionway, but they needn’t have bothered; suddenly they were swimming. The Vengeance had burst into a cloud of dense fog.
“Where are you?” shouted Tim.
“Over here,” she called back.
“Can you swim?”
“Sure. I’m an expert.”
He swam to her side and they treaded water together hoping and praying that the dinghy had not disappeared along with the ship. But finally the fog began to lift and they saw their boat bobbing in the waves fifty feet away.
They swam to opposite sides of the dinghy and climbed aboard together. The boat was ankle-deep with water but the waters of the Sound were peaceful, and quiet, and pleasant. They pulled in the anchor rope; then Kathy picked up the bailing bucket from the floor and began to bail out water while Tim took the oars and pulled for the yarn box. “You know, Tim,” said Kathy, "maybe you’re not nuts after all.”
THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST COLONY
“Aren’t these exciting stories?” said Jeremy’s mother. “I’m sorry Kathy isn’t here. “She’s missing all the excitement.”
Cap’n McConagee had an audience. The yarn box was closed on Sunday but anyone was welcome to stop for a chat. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson and their young son had missed him the morning before but now were sitting on the porch overlooking the Sound. They were listening to sea stories.
In the distance from the South a dinghy appeared bringing an oarsman and a passenger. This is a good place for your son to grow up,” said Mrs. Jackson. “What is Tim’s favorite story about the Banks?”
“Tim always loves a mystery,” said the Cap’n. “And one of the world’s greatest mysteries occurred right here on the Banks. It’s the mystery of what happened to the first English colony in America, on Roanoke Island..But I know th' answer."
“We’ve heard about the mystery,” said Mrs. Jackson. “But I’d love to hear your answer.”
“It’s the mystery of the Lost Colony,” said the Cap’n. “Spain had started colonies in Mexico and the Caribbean, years before, and Spanish ships had been sailin’ up and down these shores. But England was at war with Spain and needed seaports here in North America. Besides, England wanted to start her own colonies.”
The dinghy tied up at the dock; its two passengers got out.
The Cap’n continued "England organized a group of people not afraid to sail off to a wilderness with their families and start their homes and farms with no neighbors but th’ Indians who might, or might not, be friendly.”
Kathy and Tim came up the crushed sea-shell path. "When you find the treasure chest,” Kathy asked, “How will you get it back home?”
“In the dinghy, I guess,” answered Tim.”
“But what if it’s a very large, very heavy chest? It might tip your boat over.”
“Then I’ll go back and get the Cap’n, and he’ll bring the pickup truck.”
“But who will guard the treasure while you’re gone? You can’t just leave it there on a public beach.”
“I haven’t decided that yet,” muttered Tim.
“I know! You can guard the treasure while I go to the restaurant and phone your father.”
“I – I wasn’t planning on your being there when I find it.” As they neared the yarn box he called out “I lost the shovel but you can take it out of my allowance. Can I borrow the one in the store room?”
“Help yourself,” said the Cap’n, after I give you both a bite o’ supper. How did ye lose it?”
“It floated away,” blurted Kathy. “Then on our way back we almost got sunk by a ghost ship and we got aboard it – her – and it was taking us to a ghost fleet so I pulled a spear out of a skeleton and . . . .”
She stopped as she felt all eyes on her.
Her father said “Stop making up stories, Kathy Annabelle Jackson. Get your feet on the ground.” Her mother said “But it’s wonderful to have a good imagination. She could write a terrific story for English class.”
Tim said “Kathy, let me show you my new surf-casting rod.” Alone inside the store Tim said “The less we say the better. Nobody will believe it really happened.”
“What about your father? You said he told you about the ghost ships.”
Tim shook his head. “The Cap’n tells ghost stories. That’s not the same as believing in ghosts.”
The Cap’n set out supper for two. As the adventurers ate, Kathy whispered “Will it be safe to take the dinghy back again? Mightn’t the same thing happen again?”
“Things like that never happen twice, Tim whispered back.” Jamie fought me with the knife and I won and he didn’t fight me again. Then he caused the Tide to rise and I tricked him out of it and the tide is still going out. He sent the gulls to attack me and I won and they haven’t bothered me since. When you win a battle against the ghosts you’ve won it for good.
“But Kathy, I can’t ask you to go back with me. We know the pirates are having some kind of party on the beach. It’s just too dangerous.”
“Dangerous! This was the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m going back with you.”
“I can’t let you,” said Tim. “You’ll have to stay here.”
“Is it a public beach?” she asked.
“The entire coastline is public,” said Tim.
“Then I have as much right as you have. If you won’t let me go in the dinghy I’ll have Dad drive my there.”
Tim said nothing. Kathy said “While you’re getting the shovel I’ll go to the car and run a comb through my hair. I’ll see you at the boat.”
Out on the porch the Cap’n was saying “After a month’s sea voyage the settlers landed at Roanoke Island, between the Banks and the mainland. That was in Fifteen Eighty-seven, twenty years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth. John White was the Governor, and his granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was born there to his daughter and son-in law. She was the first English child born in America."
But Tim remembered that Governor White was unable to return to Roanoke because of the war between England and Spain - England needed every ship she could find to fight the greatest naval fleet the world had ever seen – the mighty Spanish Armada. And when he did return three years had passed, and then there was no one to greet him. His daughter and three-year-old grand-daughter and all the others had vanished from the face of the earth.
“An’ th’ only clue they found was th’ word ‘Croatoan’ carved on a tree.”
Tim had to move boxes aside to get the shovel out of a tool box underneath, but he listened to the conversation on the porch.
Mrs. Jackson said “And no one ever knew what happened to them.”
“No one ever did,” agreed the Cap’n. “Some say they was captured and killed by Indians. Maybe, but no bodies were found. Did they try movin’ inland to join th’ Croatoan Indians who was friendly to ‘em? Did they use the small ship which was left for their use and try to get back to England? Were they attacked by the Spanish? People have been debatin’ those questions four hundred years. But would you like to know what really happened to ‘em?”
Mrs. Jackson smiled. “I have a feeling you’re going to tell us.”
“Why,” said the Cap’n, “They was absorbed.”
“They was what?”
“They was absorbed. Mind ye, I’m not talking about where they died, or when or how. I just know they has become a part of the people of th’ Banks. Courage and heroism never dies. It lives on in other heroes and heroines down through th’ centuries.
“What happened to the lost colonists? They never left these shores.”
Tim got the shovel. But there were other mysteries. Tim wondered why the pirates would have put a human skull inside their treasure chest. And he wondered what was Grandfather Zeke’s disgrace. He glanced in his room toward the scrimshaw. It was gone.
Tim dropped the shovel, ran into the room, and looked behind the safe and under his bed. Nothing. Out on the porch he said “Cap’n, the scrimshaw is gone. I know it was on the safe when I left.”
“Then it must have fallen down behind. I’ve been here since dinner and no one else has been in th’ store.”
Tim threw the shovel over his shoulder and started down the path. “I should have known Jamie would swipe it,” he thought. “I’ve been lucky so far. I wonder if now my luck’ll change.”
EVIL SAILS THESE SEAS
“Captain McConagee, your stories are very uplifting,” said Mrs. Jackson. “But with all those courageous people inspiring us, why is there so much evil in our land?”
“Very simple, mum. There has been evil people in the past and they still walk among us exudin’ evil thoughts into our minds. Here on the Banks, where Bankers has been so courageous about saving other’s lives, there were some who were very generous about helping ‘emselves to other people’s property. When sea chests would wash in to shore from shipwrecks those chests would be found broken open and empty. There was some who would lure ships to destruction in order to rob ‘em.
“The village of Nag’s head was so named because certain Bankers there used to lure vessels onto the shoals by hangin’ lanterns around horses’ necks at night and lettin’ ‘em walk up and down the beach. From the sea it would appear to be a harbor with ship’s lights movin’ to and fro.”
Kathy started down the path to the dinghy, with Jeremy walking beside his sister to wish her a nice boat ride. But as she and Tim pushed off he began crying to go along.
“You can’t go.” said his sister. “It’s too dangerous.”
“What’s danj’rous about it?” sobbed Jeremy. “I can swim.”
“I know you can swim,” she answered. “But there might be ghosts there, and ghosts are dangerous.”
“I don’t believe in stupid ghosts!” screamed her brother.
“Jeremy! That is very immature.”
On the porch the Cap’n was continuing “But the worst robbers of ships, of course, was the pirates who sailed these seas for two centuries or more. The most successful pirates were those with a reputation for being cruel to those who fought back. Then the pirates’d be less likely to be resisted the next time.
“Those pirates, and other evil people like ‘em, still walks among us, and they sails these seas and stalks these shores and they prowls the streets of our cities and villages spreading their evil thoughts to all who are so foolish as to succumb to those thoughts. They are the ghosts, and they are the evil spirits of the evil people they once were, and there is no good in ‘em, only evil. Their punishment is to spend their days without love, without caring, without human understanding or compassion, and they walks together and sails together, hating each other, killing each other. It is our lot in life to die, once, but they is doomed to die over and over again.”
Jeremy stepped onto the porch, his cheeks wet with tears, and asked “Tell me a pirate story.”
“Well, sir, one of the pirates was named Mary. A girl named Mary Read wanted to sail here from England but didn’t have money for the journey. So she got a job workin’ as a deck hand aboard a sloop but had to dress as a man because the job wasn’t open to women. Her ship was captured by a pirate, Captain “Calico Jack” Rackam who didn’t want to rob the ship; he wanted to steal it. So he forced the crew to join his fleet until he had a chance to add more pirates to his crew. By then Mary found piratin’ so exciting she joined the pirates without their knowin’ she was a woman.”
“I never heard of a lady pirate,” grumbled Jeremy.
“There was not one, but two,” said the Cap‘n. “A girl named Ann Bonny had married Calico Jack and come aboard. But she disguised herself as a man because the men thought it was bad luck to have a woman aboard a ship.
“Calico Jack wore trousers made of calico an’ he enjoyed fancy clothes more’n he liked fightin’. He decided to quit piratin’ but Ann Bonnie liked the life so well she wouldn’t let her husband back out of it, so they kept piratin’ and she was really runnin' the ship. When she found she was goin’ t’ have a baby she went ashore ‘til after the baby was born and then went back to sea and never saw the child again.
“And so, by a strange historical coincidence there was two women aboard that same pirate ship, both of ‘em disguised as men.
“Now in October Seventeen Hundred and Twenty a warship attacked Calico Jack off the coast of Jamaica and the sailors boarded the pirate ship. The pirates lost the battle, and the last two pirates fightin’ on that deck was Ann Bonnie and Mary Read.
“The pirates was tried and sentenced to be hanged. Then the authorities found out those two were women that were both about to have babies so the court spared them from the gallows. Somebody asked Mary Read if she was sorry she became a pirate and she said no, but she was in favor of hangin’ pirates. If the penalty were less severe every fool would go into piracy and it wouldn’t be so profitable for the others.
“Meanwhile they asked Calico Jack if he had one last request before being led off to the gallows and he said he wanted to see his wife once more. So they led him in chains to Ann Bonny’s prison cell and she made a touchin’ and tender farewell speech to her husband.”
“What did she say?” asked Jeremy.
“She said ‘If you had fought like a man, you need not have died like a dog.’”
THE RETURN TO THE BEACH
Two treasure hunters returned, along the Sound, to the scene of the hunt. Kathy asked “What will you do with the treasure when you find it?”
“Spend it, I guess,” replied Tim.
"You’re going to spend diamonds and jewelry? You’re going to spend money that’s hundreds of years old?”
“Well then, I’ll sell it.”
“Who will you sell it to?”
“I dunno. A jewelry store I guess, but it’s part yours. You helped find it.”
“Thanks. But is it yours in the first place? If it isn’t on your own property, I mean?”
“The coastline is public property,” said Tim.
“Then the treasure prob’ly belongs to the government. But you prob’ly get part since you found it. Do you have a permit to dig for treasure on public property?”
“Well, you’ll prob’ly have legal matters to take care of. You’ll need a lawyer. Do you have a lawyer?”
“Who are you going to make your report to?”
“You’ll have to report it to the police. Or the Coast Guard. And they’ll prob’ly have an investigation to find out if you stole it. And you’ll probl’ly have to pay taxes on it. How are you going to pay your taxes?”
Tim stopped rowing. “I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t care what happens to the treasure after I find it. I just know I’m going to find it..” Tim started rowing again.
“Tim," said Kathy, "why do I have two shadows?”
“I’m good at riddles,” said Tim. “Give me a minute to think.”
“It’s not a riddle. Look at the boat floor in front of me.”
Tim looked. In front of her were the shadows of two people. “I don’t know; it doesn’t make sense,” agreed Tim. “But so what? Nothing this whole week-end has made any sense.”
Kathy began to worry about the pirates’ party, scheduled for the beach on that very day. She asked “Is Jamie guarding the treasure all by himself or are the other ghosts helping him?”
“In death,” replied Tim, “we is all shipmates.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not sure,” said Tim “It’s something I heard. I can’t remember where.”
“You know, Tim,” said Kathy, “I think you’re a really nice guy. But sometimes I think you’re a little bit weird.”
“Nothin weird about it,” came a voice beside her. And the voice that cast the shadow beside her materialized into a skeleton on the seat next to Kathy.
Kathy bolted of out her seat in terror, landing beside Tim. They stared at the apparition, sitting one leg crossed over the other, calmly cleaning his invisible fingernails with a pocketknife. “Who are -- Where the -- heck -- did you come from?” gasped Tim.
“Captain Bruce Macgregor of the Bonnie Belle,” replied the apparition.
Kathy felt a little sick, but asked, in her very friendliest tone, “I suppose, Captain Macgregor, that you’re on your way to the pirate party?”
Macgregor jumped to his feet, rocking the boat so badly it nearly capsized, and stormed “Pirate party? I hates pirates!” Then sitting down he continued “Received a invitation but I politely refused. In death we is all shipmates, as I always say, but askin’ me to attend th’ pirate social event of th’ year is askin’ too much.”
“But I heard that ghosts are the evil spirits of evil people,” said Tim. “If you’re not a pirate, why are you a ghost?”
“Trust me, laddie,” said Macgregor, “in life I did enough sinnin’ to make a dozen ghosts. Now hear me. I have come to warn ye for yer own good.”
“Why?" asked Tim. “You ghosts are all evil.”
“Maybe we is an’ maybe we ain’t,” growled the skeleton. He held out a bony hand to Kathy. “Touch my hand, lassie.” She tried, but her hand passed right through his, feeling nothing.
“Now,” he said, “Touch my face.” Again she tried, but her hand passed right through his skull.
Grasping the blade of his knife he offered the handle to her. “Now lassie, take my knife.” She wrapped her fingers around the handle and to her surprise it felt hard and very cold.
“Now cut two slivers o’ wood from the gunnel o’ this boat.” She cut two wood chips and could tell the blade was razor sharp.
“Now each o’ ye put a wood chip in yer pocket.” This they did, and he asked “Now my knife back again, if ye please.”
The knife clicked as he closed it, and he slipped it into his pocket, or at least where his pocket would have been if he had been clothed. It instantly disappeared from view. “Ye see?” said Macgregor. “Blades are th’ bridge ‘twixt yer world an’ th’ spirit world. Our bodies have no substance, no more’n mist or shadow. We canna’ harm ye with our bodies. But our blades are real, be they pen-knives or cutlasses, be they visible or invisible, our blades can cut. Let those wood chips in yer pockets be a constant reminder.” Macgregor disappeared from view but his shadow remained.
“Kathy,” said Tim. “I can’t row with you beside me. You’ll have to go back where you were.”
“If you think I’m going to sit there, next to an invisible skeleton, think again,” said Kathy. She climbed forward to sit in the prow. I’ll just sit here.”
“But you can’t sit there,” said Tim. “It’s hard to row with extra weight in front.”
“I’m afraid you’ll just have to do the best you can, Mister Expert Oarsman,” she replied.
As they came within sight of the beach they saw no sign of a party in progress But Tim looked intently. If the probing bar had been removed from the sand he’d know Jamie had pulled it out because it marked the treasure location. Then Tim would simply step off the one hundred eight paces and start digging. But if Jamie hadn’t removed it that might mean it was the wrong place.
When Tim saw the beach he groaned. The bar protruded starkly from the sand.
They beached their craft. “What do we do know?” he wondered aloud. “Start digging anyway? Or do I keep on driving the bar at different places?”
“Why don’t you at least step it off over again,” said Kathy, “just to make sure?”
Tim walked to the tree and stepped off the distance to the steel bar. “Eighty- one steps! he shouted. “Jamie pulled it out and moved it. What’s one hundred eight minus eighty-one?”
“Twenty seven,” said Kathy. Tim took an additional twenty-seven steps. “This is the exact spot,” he said triumphantly. “No ghost would take the trouble to move that bar without a good reason.”
As they walked back to the boat for the pick and shovel Tim said “I feel kind of sorry for Jamie. Something awful must have happened when they left him here guarding that chest, because his ghost isn’t any older now than he was then. The Cap’n says the ghosts have no good in them, only evil, but they gave Jamie the duty of guarding the treasure chest and he’s been doing it all these years. It seems like that should count for something.”
Kathy spoke softly “Don’t forget, Tim. Jamie tried to kill you.”
Tim grabbed the pick and shovel. “Well, let’s get to work.”
THE BATTLE OF THE FLEET
Kathy dug with the shovel. Tim jabbed with the pick. Jab, Dig. Jab-jab. Dig-dig. The sun looked out from her berth low above the Sound at two treasure hunters on the otherwise deserted beach. They worked in a pit up to their waists, in water up to their knees.
But they were not quite alone. Their shadows stretched long across the beach. Then what was that third shadow? Long, and straight, and slender it moved across the sand, stopping just beyond the treasure hunters.
It might have been the shadow of a ship’s mast but no ship lay at anchor in the Sound. Then what were those shadows of cross arms like the yards which hold the square sails of a square-rigged mast? And if those yards held sails then why did the sails cast no shadows?
“It looks like the foremast of a barque or brig,” said Tim. “It’s an invisible ship.”
“If something’s invisible,” asked Kathy, “How can it cast a shadow?”
“I told you,” answered Tim, "lots of impossible things have been happening.”
There came a scraping sound from the shore. The shadow of a landing boat moved onto the sand; the shadows of two men stepped into the water and waded ashore.
“I should have known better’n leave the cabin boy guardin’ that chest, Ezra,” said one of the men, with an oily voice. His shadow wore a hat sideways, the kind naval officers used to wear. “Now we had to bring the Barracuda to anchor so we can do what he should have done. Outsmarted by a couple of wet-nosed brats, and one of ‘em a female at that.”
“Don’t be too harsh on Jamie, Mr. Atkins,” came a voice coarse and grating as fish scales. The shadow was bare-headed; Tim noticed that both shadows wore shadows of broad curved swords. Ezra continued “Jamie’s been guardin’ that chest faithfully more’n two hundred years.”
“Oh has he now?” said Atkins. “An’ where is he now, if I may so inquire?”
“He’s skulkin’ the floor of the Atlantic, off on a visit to Ezekiel McConagee’s bones.”
“McConagee? Who’s he?” asked Atkins.
“He’s the boy’s ancestor.” said Ezra. “Fisherman by trade, but he disgraced his family by joinin’ a pirate crew. Jamie made an agreement to bring a scrimshaw, the luck o’ the McConagees, to Zeke’s home on the Atlantic floor. In return Zeke’ll send nothin’ but bad luck to the boy that’s searchin’ for the treasure.”
“Well, no matter, “ said Atkins. We’ll just finish off these two an’ shovel the sand back on top of ‘em. Then it’ll make no difference whether Zeke sends good luck or bad.”
“Tim, they can’t really hurt us, can they?” whispered Kathy. “They’re only ghosts.” But they both knew the answer was in the wood chips in their pockets. Tim said “When they get here start swinging your shovel as hard as you can and try to disarm them.” But they both knew this would be a neat trick when all they could see of their opponents was their shadows.
The shadows approached, cutlasses in hand. But the air was shattered by an explosion, a cannon report. An unseen cannon ball splashed near the shore, throwing a shower over Kathy and Tim. Several hundred yards out on the Sound a puff of smoke arose from where an unseen ship had fired one of her guns at the Barracuda. Then she fired another shot and another. From the smoke she appeared to be sailing north and firing broadsides from her starboard guns
Ezra and Atkins forgot about the treasure hunters and turned to watch their ship being torn apart. A gun nearer by began to fire; the Barracuda had brought her stern gun into play. But she lay at anchor; she could not turn her broadside to her foe, and her port and starboard guns remained silent and useless.
Outgunned and outmaneuvered she seemed to be shipping water badly and the shadow of her mast began moving along the beach, not sailing but keeling to. Suddenly as they watched the shadow of the mast disappeared and the Barracuda was no more. Where she had been a cloud of fog appeared and spread out across the surface of the Sound. Amid a chorus of angry shouts and curses other shadows splashed through the shallows and onto the shore, the pirates of the Barracuda. On the Sound the ship that sunk her was still firing, exchanging broadsides with other unseen vessels.
The victor over the Barracuda now fell in defeat, and another cloud of fog spread out from where she had been. And while the battles of other ships still raged at sea more shadows came splashing onto shore, the pirate crew that had sunk the Barracuda. Amid screams of rage and clashing of cutlasses and the cries of the dying the two crews tore at each other, ripping phantom flesh and severing phantom bone. And when a pirate’s cutlass would tear through a foe’s neck the slain man’s shadow would not fall; it would simply disappear. The slain man’s sword would become visible there on the sand, after leaving the lifeless hand, and a few seconds later it, too, would disappear.
On the Sound battles of ships continued with greater fury, and a denser fog spread over the Sound as more and more ships were destroyed.
Tim and Kathy watched sword fights in which one man would defend himself against two or three others, and always when a man would be torn in two his shadow would cease to exist. And as more and more ships were sunk at sea more and more shadows stormed onto land, replacing those who had been slain.
A shadow in a sideways hat said in an oily voice “Well, Captain Fear of the Barracuda.”
Captain Fear replied “Ye scurvy scum, Atkins. We made it safe ashore with a chest o’ treasure to this very spot more’n two hundred years ago and you turned against me.”
“You claimed the chest for your own self, Captain,” said Atkins, “so I just put your head inside.”
Captain Fear swung his sword mightily at Atkin’s left side and Atkins swung from his right. Fear’s sword missed Atkins but passed through the trunk of the “S”-shaped Live Oak tree. The tree fell to the ground showing a cleanly sliced white surface of wood.
Fear and Atkins swung again and as their cutlasses met in a clash of steel, Fear’s sword went flying. Atkins made short work of his disarmed captain and then turned to another shipmate.
“Ezra, you rancid tank of whale blubber! You’ve forced me to suffer the worst cookin’ on the seas, and now it’s my pleasure to see you suffer.”
“You was always a bloated belchin’ braggart, Mr. Atkins,” came a voice as coarse as fish scales, but I’m still ship’s cook and I’ll serve up your carcass in a couple of ample portions.” The two shipmates lashed into each other with swords swinging. Ezra was more than a match for Atkins and sent his sword down the full length of the first mate, who cried out in pain and whose shadow was no more.
Ezra roared with laughter. “You can’t fight no better’n you can sail, Jonah Atkins,” he jeered.
But a shadow behind Ezra swung his cutlass and cut the laughter short, laughing “I’ve et your rotten cookin’ too, mate.
The ships’ guns no longer sounded. The fog from the ships’ sinking and the black smoke from the ships’ gunpowder were so thick they shaded the shoreline from the sun and the pirates’ shadows became faint and hazy on the sand. And amid the shouting that filled the beach there was one shadow that splashed ashore that laughed the loudest, cursed the most profanely, shouted the most insultingly, of all. He strode up and down the beach cutlassing the others on either hand. He would sometimes take a sword into his own flesh and would shout in pain and rage, and then continue his attack all the more furiously. His shadow showed that he had a long beard.
No longer would two or three fight against one. No longer were there shipmates or comrades-at-arms. No longer were there friendships or loyalties. It was every man on the beach against every other man. As cutlass clashed against cutlass, ten pounds of steel striking ten pounds of steel, every man was compelled by only one thought: to cause as much pain and suffering as possible.
Tim whispered “I haven’t heard Jamie’s voice out there. I’m kind of glad.”
And always the shadow with the beard fought the most viciously, laughed the most insultingly of all. Until there were only a few voices left on the beach. Until the fog that had once been ships had lifted, and the sun’s rays came through to show that the only remaining shadow was the one with the beard.
But another cloud of fog arose out on the sound. “So the Vengeance has finally decided to go under!” shouted the bearded shadow. “It gives me great pleasure t’ welcome her crew ashore!”
“Tim!” whispered Kathy. “That’s the same ship we were on.”
As the Vengeance crew approached one shouted "It's Blackbeard, all by himself. We can take him, easy!"
As they splashed ashore Blackbeard was waiting. He made short work of all of them, and then looked around as if angry there no more lives to be taken.
He faced directly at Tim and Kathy. They sank to their knees in the water.
But too late. “Oho!” he cried, “so you two young whelps has been watchin’ th' party. I cordially invites you to attend.” He strode directly toward them, until the shadow of the bearded head passed over the pit where they stood, cringing.
But he turned as he heard splashing behind him One last shadow waded in from the Vengeance, armed with a rapier. “Delighted t’ see ye,’ Ezekial McConagee! So kind of ye’ to drop by.”
Tim’s blood froze. His own ancestor - a pirate. “The pleasure’s all mine, Blackbeard,” shouted Grandfather Zeke. “I’ll part your filthy head from your maggot-infested body. My luck is with me today!”
And luck was indeed with him. Again and again Blackbeard swung furiously. Again and again Zeke deflected the blow with his rapier, laughing “Is that the best you can do? I’ve seen little girls fight better.” With each miss Blackbeard grew angrier and swore louder. In frustration he grasped the hilt with both hands, swinging the blade around and down in an effort to split his foe from head to toe. Again Zeke deflected the blow, but Kathy and Tim heard a ripping of cloth.
“Ye ripped me jacket,” jeered Zeke. “Oh well, ‘twas an old one.”
Then it happened. A shiny white object tumbled onto the beach. It must have fallen out of the torn jacket pocket. The object, so invisible when in Zeke’s pocket, shone brightly when lying on the sand.
“It’s the scrimshaw!” whispered Tim. “It’s the luck of the McConagees.”
“Oho!” shouted Blackbeard. “Ye just ran out o’ luck. Ye dropped yer good luck piece.”
“’Tis no matter," said Zeke. "Someone just might be needin’ it more’n me."
Zeke lunged with the rapier. Blackbeard slashed with the cutlass. Both men screamed in pain But it was Zeke’s shadow that was cut in two at the waist; both halves vanished.
Tim nearly cried out, too He felt a searing pain as if the blade had ripped through his own body. Grandfather Zeke may not have been a good man; he was a pirate. But still, he was Tim’s own flesh and blood. Blackbeard staggered and fell to his knees, roaring in pain and anger. Clearly, he had been wounded. Tim watched for Zeke’s rapier to fall but could see nothing.
Blackbeard bellowed like a wounded sea lion and staggered to his feet. He fell to his knees again, then looked at Tim and Kathy and shouted in rage and pain, “I’ll send ye t’ accompany Ezekiel to his paradise or Hades as the case may be.” Staggering toward them he roared, “So you thinks you can fight me with a shovel and a piece o’ steel! Why, my blade’ll go right straight through the both of ye with one swing,”
“Zeke wounded him,” said Kathy, desperately. “Please fall down.” But they both wondered where Zeke’s sword was.
Tim gripped the crowbar, jumped out of the pit, and shouted “Run, Kathy! Get out of here!” He darted past Blackbeard, who was swinging his cutlass, and swung his crowbar as hard as he could toward the path where he thought the sword would pass. He heard the clash of steel and heard Blackbeard’s cutlass whistle past his left ear, and he felt the crowbar being knocked out of his hand and saw it sailing through the air.
Tim ran past Blackbeard. He dove head-first and grabbed the scrimshaw, the good luck piece, with both hands. Then he lay motionless on the sand.
Blackbeard fell to his knees again, screaming in pain. He turned crosswise to the sun, and Tim and Kathy could see the cause of his staggering and pain. Protruding from his back was the shadow of Zeke’s rapier point, and from his chest, the hilt.
“Satan, come get me,” shouted Blackbeard. “Come an’ get me an’ ye’ll have a real fight on yer hands.” The shadow vanished and the beach was quiet once more.
GLOSSARY OF NAUTICAL TERMS
Toward the stern of a vessel.
Crosswise in a vessel, from side to side.
A long slender support projecting forward from the prow of a ship
A volley of cannon fire from all of a ship’s portside or starboard guns.
An interior wall in a ship, from deck to overhead.
A young man given odd jobs to do on merchant ship. If a pirate ship had a cabin boy it might have been an attempt to make the ship appear legal..
The U.S. Coast Guard, the branch of the Federal Government which protects our nation’s shoreline. It was once named the U.S. Lifesaving Service, with the duty of rescuing shipwreck victims.
A floor, either indoor or outdoor.
A small boat, a rowboat.
The second in command of a ship, under the captain. A pirate ship would usually not have a first mate unless it was to make the ship appear legal.
Toward the prow of a vessel.
Sails or Rigging in which the sails run in the Prow-to-Stern direction, such as the triangular sail of a sailboat.
The mast farthest forward
The top edge of the side of a hull. Water over the gunnels would pour into the ship.
A rope used for hoisting yards, sails, or flags.
An opening in a deck for light, ventilation, or access to the space below.
The space below the lower deck where cargo is stored.
The main body of a vessel, not including rigging.
A triangular sail supported by the stay between the Bowsprit and Foremast
Sinking of a ship with her keel coming up out of the water.
A nautical mile per hour A nautical mile is about 1 1/8 land miles.
A distance of about three miles.
The principal mast of a vessel, often the mast next aft of the foremast.
The top portion of a mast.
The left left side of a vessel, when facing forward. “Port” also means a window.
The front end of a vessel.
A vessel’s system of masts, sails, and ropes.
To sink a ship by cutting holes in her hull.
Ropes used to support the masts in the lateral direction.
Rigged with square sails, placed athwart the ship.
A post supporting the deck or roof above.
The right side of a vessel, when facing forward
The rear end of a vessel
Ropes used to support the masts in the for-and-Aft direction.
A rower’s seat reaching athwart a rowboat.
A beam or timber athwart the stern of a vessel.
A crossbar supported by the mast and supporting a sail.