short stories

Have you met Capt. Bill Blackbeard?

I looked down at my pocket watch to see that he was now 15 minutes late. That didn’t necessarily surprise me, however; I’ve heard Capt. Bill Black Beard called many things and punctual wasn’t one of them.

Within a few minutes’ time of this realization, I saw a shadowy figure, out of the corner of my eye, leaping over the second floor balcony. In mid-air, he grabbed onto the giant crystal chandelier hanging in the center lobby of the Red Dragon Inn and swung overhead, into the leather chair across from where I was sitting.

“Sorry, mate. I ran into an old friend,” Black Beard said, astonishingly cool despite quite an acrobatic feat not two moments ago. “Sometimes it’s hard to pry yourself away. Savvy?”

“No worries,” I said. “Shall we sit at the bar?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

The two of us, a swashbuckler and I, sauntered through the crowded, rowdy saloon and pulled two stools up to the foot-thick dogwood bar, darkened from the staining spills of a thousand ales. Black Beard sat on my left so that his sword wouldn’t poke me in the hip.

“Barkeep, a handle of your spiciest rum,” he said. “…and leave the bottle.”

The heavy smell on his breath told me this wouldn’t be his first drink of the day. He leaned toward me with his irreverant, deadpan stare.

“So what’d you want to chat with me about, mate?” His voice reverberated like the tinny repetitive twang of rain on a steel drum.

“Oh, nothing really,” I said. Then, after a moment of reflection and pause to gain confidence, “I’m thinking of becoming a pirate.”

“So it’s the life of a scoundrel ye seek, eh? Well, that’s easier said than done, mate.” At that point, he took a healthy swig from the bottle the bartender had set down, ignoring the glass poured for him. After a few chugs, he pulled the spout away from his moistened lips. “Although liquid courage helps.”

“I’m just sick of always playing by the rules. I feel like a trained monkey.”

“Aye, one does make his own way married to the sea, but without a name for yourself, like ‘Captain Bill Black Beard,’ for instance, you’ll tread a rough road on the onset, mate… ”

“So how did you make your name, then?” I interrupted him. “How did you earn the Lady Loveless a reputation that strikes dread in the very souls of seafarers, when it raises its tattered skull and crossbones emblem up the mast?”

Without missing a beat, he began his speech…

“I could sit here and tell thee it’s cunning. That I’m always five steps ahead. Those who’ve underestimated me in the past have paid dearly and word of their misfortune has spread from the slums of No Man’s Isle to the seat of Her Majesty’s Throne. I could tell thee it’s the story itself, mate, that, over time, it precedes you so that you don’t have to be clever or cunning; you just have to play the part,” he brought the bottle to his mouth, pointing the butt of it to the ceiling. In three more galunks, it was gone. The rum didn’t seem to make him drunk, just more fluid in his delivery of the monologue. He dragged the sleeve of his frilly white shirt across his grizzled face and, after a subtle tight-lipped grin which indicated he was pleased with himself, this lecture and his overall place in life, he continued.

“I could say all of this, mate, muttering until I was bloody blue in the face, but one defining Truth would remain nonetheless… One thing which cannot be taught or learned. You could sail the far reaches of the eight seas—”

“I thought there were seven,” I interjected.

“Not if you count the hidden one by Antarctica, mate. Anyway, you could perform all of this and you’d still fall short of one simple fact. A single quality, by which only I can achieve and you never can.”

“What is this secret?! I implore you! C’mon nothing’s impossible. There must be some way.”

“I’m afraid not, mate. This one immovable morsel of infallibility is entirely mine and no one else’s. It shapes the very fabric of my being and is the sole reason for my success plundering the plentiful bounty this fine Earth has laid before me.”

“Fine. The least you can do is tell me what this impossibility is, then. After all of this, you owe me that.”

“It’s simple, mate… I’m Captain Bill Black Beard.”