Canto Two – Bait Worth Biting On
Describing the feeling of entering the Ghost House for the first time would prove quite difficult for Valerie when she tried to do it later on in Miss Bierstadt’s class for an English essay assignment. But at the moment she crawled through the Tunnel of Doom, she would’ve described it as a feeling in her belly like eating a bowl of iced earthworms and trying to find a place to throw up in a jungle full of man-eating plants that smelled an awful lot like marigolds or something. It was that kind of combination of anticipation, bad smells, icky things to see and touch, and the sensory deprivation of entering a candle-lit darkness from the bright September world outside.
“Welcome, Miss Valerie Clarke,” said freshman football hero and huge Polish hunk Pidney Breslow. Valerie was deeply in love with the square-shouldered giant, and sincerely hoped he would be the leader of this Pirate club.
“Hello,” she said, almost timidly.
“You are just in time for the first official meeting of the reforming Norwall Pirates’ Club,” said Mary Philips brightly. Mary had extended the official invitation to Valerie to come here, although Val didn’t really know why. Mary had said that she didn’t want to be the only girl in the club, but why would a girl like Mary want to be in a boys’ club? She had a bad feeling that the high school freshman girl also had her cap set for winning Pidney as a boyfriend. But, plain-looking as Mary was, Val was only mildly concerned.
A quick look around as Danny Murphy crawled in after her revealed the other boys in attendance at the secret meeting. Ray Zeffer, another high school freshman was there. He was kinda handsome in a way, too, but he was always so sad-looking with those big puppy-dog brown eyes of his. He had a neatly combed mess of jet black hair too, which was also attractive. Val could easily learn to like this club.
The other boy, a high school junior, was kinda creepy. His name was Conrad Doble. He was the only one at the meeting who had been a member of the original Norwall Pirates. He was tall and thin, with lank blond hair that hadn’t had a haircut in too long. He had a distinct problem with facial Acne. And he insisted on leering at Valerie, like he wanted to take a bite or two and eat her up. For the first time Val understood why he had the semi-Shakespearian nickname of King Leer.
“You know that re-forming the Pirates is a sucky idea, right?” said Doble, leering at Mary Philips for the moment. “There’s no way to go back to those things. Milt Morgan had all the ideas and told us what to do. Brent Clarke was the leader and made the ideas happen. How are we gonna fight werewolves or undead Chinese wizards without them?”
“You know that those adventures were mostly lies and fairy tales,” Mary said.
“Still, who will be the wizard? And who will be the leader?” Doble glared at Mary accusingly. “I actually saw the werewolf!”
The two older boys, Ray and Pidney looked at each other sheepishly.
“Re-forming the Pirates was my idea,” said Mary. “I think I should be the leader.”
“A girl as leader?” asked Doble. “We only used to let girls in for sex parties.”
“Be careful what you say to Mary, Goon,” said Pidney.
“Or what? You’ll beat me up with your football muscles?”
“No,” said Ray. “The two of us will beat the crap out of you.” The fire flashing in Ray Zeffer’s eyes was even more intimidating than Pidney’s football muscles, and Pidney’s football muscles were seriously huge.
“Yeah, well… I guess there might be benefits to having girls in the Pirates,” grumbled Doble menacingly.
“So, it’s settled. The Norwall Pirates exist once more,” said Mary with a sparkly smile. “I will be the leader and Pidney will be second in command.”
“Who is the wizard?” growled Doble. “Milt is the hard one to replace.”
“I get that you always thought of Milt Morgan as Merlin and Brent Clarke as his King Arthur,” said Mary, “but do we really need a wizard?”
“Yeah, I think we do,” insisted Doble.
“You know we don’t have to let you be a Pirate this time,” warned Pidney.
“I’m the only real Norwall Pirate here,” said Doble imperially. “You have to have my permission to even do this.”
“It’s all right,” said Mary. “What is it you think we need a wizard for?”
Conrad Doble stood up to his full height and lightly bonked his head on a cellar rafter. After he rubbed his somewhat flattened head of hair, he went over to a nearby cabinet, and removed the right hand door which basically fell out when you touched it. He reached in and brought out a large peanut-butter jar filled with formaldehyde. Floating in it was the severed head of a huge black cat, its dead eyes popped and staring. He placed that on the crate in front of the old couch.
“Gack! What’s that?” asked Pidney.
“The secret mystical symbol of the Pirate leader,” said Mary.
“Smart girl,” said Conrad Doble. “If you know that, then surely you know what a wizard is for.”
“I’m guessing the keeper of secrets,” said Mary.
“The teller of stories!” Valerie blurted out.
“Yes!” said Doble. “Both of those things. But story-teller most of all. That’s what Milt used to do. He told us stories and made us believe in stuff.”
“So, who here is a story-teller?” asked Ray Zeffer.
“Tell us the story of your Uncle Noah,” Pidney said to Mary.
“He is NOT my uncle,” said Mary. “He’s just Dad’s friend. I used to call him uncle when I was little.”
“But that’s the idea, isn’t it?” asked Pidney. “That story you were telling me about your dad’s friend on the freighter in the South Seas? You could tell us that.”
“Maybe. You have to give me time to pull it all together. I think we need to leave that position open for the moment, to give others here a chance to tell a story of their own.” Mary glared in Conrad’s direction for a change.
“Okay,” said Doble. “It’s a deal.”
“Who will be in the club?” asked Pidney.
“I invited everyone here to be a Pirate,” said Mary. “I think all of us need to be here. The Norwall Pirates used to be a group of friends that supported each other and helped each other through hard times. That’s what we all need again. Especially Ray.”
Ray Zeffer blushed and looked off into the darkness of the far corner of the cellar. Valerie wondered why. She decided she would find out… soon.
“Why didn’t you invite Billy Martin?” asked Danny Murphy. “He needs to be a Pirate too.”
“You are right,” said Mary with a smile. “But I didn’t know where to find him or how to get the message to him. Inviting him can be our first club project.”
“Club project? You make it sound all girly!” complained Doble.
So it was decided. Valerie Clarke was now the second girl ever to be a Norwall Pirate. She smiled to herself, but when she caught Doble looking at her again, she changed the smile for a frown.