Tag Archives: When the Captain Came Calling

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 20

Canto Twenty – The Evil Island

We were lost because the Reefer Mary Celeste no longer had a navigator aboard, and Chinooki had apparently destroyed the radio and all the other electronic equipment on board as well.  Kooky and I tried to keep her on the course we had been following, but two of us were simply not enough people to manage a ship of the size of the Mary.  We quickly lost our way in a thick fog and we were going in an unknown direction at too high a rate of speed.  We knew how to use a compass and we might even have been able to wait for the stars if our minds hadn’t been turned to Jell-O pudding by the mermaid’s singing.

“She killed all of our crew, didn’t she?” said Kooky.

“She did.  You know, Chuck warned us about her.  We should’ve listened.”

“You are right, Captain.  I realize that now.  But at the time, it was like I was under a spell or something.  She had power over me.”

“Yes, she did.  Over all of us, apparently.”

“I am so sorry, Captain.  I’ve caused the death of us all, haven’t I?”

“None of us should ever have let someone else take control of our lives.  We should’ve realized the danger from the start.  You can’t blame yourself alone.”

It was right after that conversation that Kooky spotted Chinooki sitting on a distant rock.

“I am going to make her pay, Captain.  She is going to regret coming on board the Reefer Mary Celeste.”

Kooky was at the wheel, and he steered the entire ship directly towards the rock where Chinooki was sitting.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I’ll ram her!  I will run her over!”

“Kooky, she’s singing right now.  Do you think maybe she wants us to do exactly what you are doing?”

“Maybe so.  Maybe not.  But I have ta!” And the strangest thing is that I let him do it.  I let him ram the Mary bow-first into the rock.  It tore through most of the front end of the ship, separating her at mid-ship into two parts, both of which sank to the bottom.  I remember swimming in the ocean with shark fins in the water near the horizon.  I remember hearing Kooky call out and a sudden thrashing, and I wondered if it were the sharks or the mermaid herself who claimed him.  I never saw him again.  I never saw any of them again.  I blacked out, and don’t remember anything before awakening on the sand of the Evil Island’s shore.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 19

Canto Nineteen – The Log Book of the Reefer Mary Celeste

It would be two days before anything more could happen in the quest to understand about the Captain.  Valerie finally found the time to visit Mary Philips’ house while Pidney was also there.  None of the other Pirates proved available.   Danny had a 4-H meeting to attend in the old Norwall School House, and Ray Zeffer also was in 4-H.  4-H Club was the center of farm-boy life in small farm towns in Iowa.  Both the boys and the girls had their own division of the club.  Heart, head, hands, and health, the 4-H’s were an international organization that encouraged youth development and prosperity through projects and learning goals.  4-H was to farmers what Boy Scouts were to the Army, Navy, and Marines… indoctrination into the secret cult of the tillers of the earth.  Technically, the three Pirates meeting in the basement of the Philips’ house were supposed to be at the meeting too, at least Pidney was.  The Norwall Pirates were also technically a 4-H softball team, so there were definite ties to things that couldn’t be ignored for long.  Still, this secret meeting was temporarily more important.

“I’m glad creepy old Doble couldn’t come,” Pidney said.  “I don’t trust him around you girls.  He doesn’t go to 4-H meetings any more, but he apparently has more important things to do with himself anyway.”

“We have to consider him a Pirate, though,” said Mary.  “He is the only remaining member of the original club.”

“Yeah, whatever.”  Pid was frowning until he looked at Valerie.  Then he smiled.  “But I’m sure glad you could come, Val.”

Valerie smiled her thanks at the big Polack.  He could be kinda dense at times, but Valerie was deeply in love with him anyway.

“I have the log book here,” Mary said, “and we can pick up reading where we left off.”

“About the mermaid?” said Pid.

“Yes, about the mermaid.”

“Chinooki,” reminded Val.

“Let me turn to the book mark,” said Mary.

                The mermaid was a miraculous creature.  Kooky actually had very little trouble catching her in the nets he used for catching prawns whenever we were near the island of Tahiti.  It was like she wanted to be caught for some strange reason.  And we soon discovered that keeping company with Chinooki was something every man aboard desired with a passion.   Her singing voice charmed the men to sleep and suggestibility.  The mermaid possessed every piece of scrimshaw, every golden ornament, and every valuable jewel on board the ship in very short order.

                “Chinooki likes sweet mens,” Chinooki said so often we never stopped to think that it might have a double meaning.

                Chuck Jones was the first man to disappear.  Kooky later told me that Chinooki told him she ate the sweet man.  But she could say practically any scary and awful thing, and then sing a sweet song, and everyone would smile and think she did no wrong.  The cabin boy disappeared next, and Bob Clampett swore he saw the kid’s severed foot at the bottom of the oyster stew Cookie served that same night.

“I am becoming alarmed here at this story,” said Pidney.  “Is this one of those things where you read the scary story in a book and then it comes true in real life?”

“It can’t be,” said Mary.  “You know full well that Captain Noah Dettbarn was a fool and a liar long before he ever went to sea.  He has a reputation in this little town, and the old folks all say that telling a lie is the same as telling a Noah.”

Mary continued reading aloud.

                Chinooki was a favorite of every sailor aboard.  She entertained us constantly with stories and songs.  She could play Kooky’s ukulele, too, like a professional.  She had us all dancing and singing along without being truly aware of what was going on.  Crewmen kept turning up missing.  Then, when Kooky started kissing her on the lips at every opportunity, I realized I needed to confront her.  I think I owe Kooky for that, because if he hadn’t interrupted her songs with his kisses, I might never have returned to my senses.

                “Chinooki,” I said, late one night at the aft rail, “you have to stop doing to us whatever it is that you have been doing to us.”

                “Chinooki not know what you are meaning, nice Captain mans.”

                “Don’t accuse her without all the facts,” Kooky said.

                “The crew likes what Chinooki has been doing for us,” added Bob Clampett.

                “Look around, Bob,” I said.  “Where exactly is the rest of the crew?”

                Bob looked all around the deck.  There was a lot of nobody to count.  His eyes got big and round.  “Good Lord!  You are right, Captain!  Something is definitely wrong!”

                “Ho ho!  Sweet Bobs has seen through the glammer!  Maybe silly Captain mans too!” said Chinooki.  She then wobbled up to Bob using her fish tail to travel upright in the manner of a cobra.  She put her silvery arms around his neck and gave him a big old smooch on the lips. Then she bit deeply into the side of his neck.  Together they pitched backwards over the ship’s rail and fell into the ocean below.  Poor Bob did not even have a chance to scream.

At that point in the story, poor Pidney was so pale, that Mary stopped reading, apparently afraid the big Polish football hero was about to pass out from fear.

“Don’t stop now!” Valerie insisted.  “This old log book thing is getting really, really good.”

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 18

Canto Eighteen – Library Lies

The four young Pirates took the invisible Captain into the Norwall Public Library, into the reading room where all the encyclopedias were kept, along with the piano used for community sing-a-longs after town council meetings.  They all took seats around one of the round tables used for meetings and, on rare occasions, students doing homework.

Valerie kept staring at the empty space behind the floating glasses where the Captain’s face actually had to be.  If she squinted and stared real hard, she could almost picture a face there, though an older face than the yearbook photo Mary had shown her.

“Uncle Noah,” Mary said, “You have to answer some questions for us now.”

“Well, um, heh-heh… what exactly do you children want to know?”

“How did you become invisible?” Danny demanded.  “And can you teach me how to do it too?”

“Why do you want to be invisible?” Valerie asked Danny, while poking him in the ribs with a finger.

“Yeah… well… you see, I could go into the girls’ locker room at school, and…”

“Okay, not that question!” insisted Mary.  Pidney beside her was a bright crimson color in the face.  “Tell us, Uncle Noah, why you became invisible.”

“Well, that was not a matter of choice.  Did you read the log book I sent you?”

“Not all of it, no…”  Mary looked at the empty air behind the glasses with a very skeptical expression.

“Well, you see, there was this witchdoctor… also called a juju man…  His name was Mangkukulan…  He put a curse on me, and made me invisible.”

“Why did he put a curse on you?” Pidney asked.

“Well, uh… you really should read about it in the log book first.  It tells the story better than I can here and now… um, before you read it.”

“Just summarize for us,” suggested Mary.

“Well, um… the truth of the matter is… um, I am in need of a… well, a pure sort of… a girl who…”

“What, Uncle Noah?”

“I need a virgin.”

“Cool,” said Danny.  “What do you need one of those for?”

“Um, well, I… Mangkukulan needs a virgin to give to the mayap mapali Matuling Lupa.”

“The what?” asked Valerie.

“That wouldn’t be a volcano or something would it?” asked Danny.

“Well, sorta, kinda… the god of volcanoes.”

“And why does Man-coo-coo-man think he needs to get a virgin from you, Captain?” asked Pidney, frowning.

“Because I… well… I sorta… um… spoiled the one he had.”

“You what?  And what virgin were you planning to give him in return?” asked Mary, almost loudly and angrily enough to be heard by the librarian in the next room.

“I hate to ask this, Mary dear… but… well… are you still a virgin?”

“What?  How can you ask a question like that?” Mary roared.

The librarian, Val’s Aunt Alice, looked into the room just as the Captain hastily pulled the hood of the cloak over his head.

“Is everything all right, Mary dear?” the librarian asked.

“Oh, ah… we are fine.  We are just having a friendly little argument.”

“I see…” Aunt Alice frowned at the cloaked and hooded figure slumped down in the chair across the table from Mary.  “Call me if you need anything, girls.  I have a handy phone on the desk, and there’s a new deputy sheriff in town.  We have a deputy who actually lives in Norwall now.”

“That’s good to know, Ms. Stewart.  Thank you so much.”  Mary smiled grimly at the cloaked Captain.

Captain Dettbarn seemed meek and chastened after that.

“You can’t really believe you can take a girl from your home town and give her to a witch doctor to throw into a volcano?”  Mary said quietly through gritted teeth.

“No, I suppose not.  But I still might need to know… um, for magical reasons.  I do have to solve the problem somehow.”

“You don’t have the right to ask that question,” said Pidney, simmering with anger.  “You are talking about a young lady’s honor.  She loses something no matter what the answer is.”

“How can she be losing something?” asked Danny, looking thoroughly confused.

“She loses her right to privacy.  And besides, if she answers that she is one, the creepy old Captain here may kidnap her and throw her into a volcano.”

“Oh,” Danny said.

“I really need to know, Mary, honey… because the witch doctor’s magic follows me everywhere.  And I am afraid he will try to take you if you are.  After all, you are the daughter of my good friend Dagwood Philips, and the witch doctor will know that you are important to me.”

“And what will you do if it turns out that I am one?”

“Well, I can’t do anything about that… but your boyfriend here could.”

“Captain!”  Mary was angry again, and Pidney was a glowing red with embarrassment again.

“Is Valerie in any danger?” asked Danny, suddenly panicky.

“This pretty little one?” the Captain asked.

“Of course,” said Mary.  “Is she in danger too?”

“Well, I don’t know.  She’s obviously not as important to me as you are, Mary… but she’s even more obviously a virgin.”

“Well, that’s disturbing,” said Valerie.  “Because I have my doubts that Pidney can solve the problem for both of us.”  The notion tickled her insides.  The idea was not without its good side.  But, still, it made her angry that they all made that particular assumption about her.

“I, um… I better be going now,” said the Captain.  “I have put you girls in enough danger already.  But… I promise, I will find a solution to this problem.  You, however, need to read the log book.  If I have any chance of finding the right magical spell to save us all, I’m going to need your help.”

With that, there was a sudden burst of light from flash powder, and the Captain was gone.  His cloak remained.  As did his clothing and his yachting cap.

“Oh, my gawd!” swore Pidney.  “What will we do now?”

“I think we have to do some serious reading,” said Mary.  “And we may have to think about some other things that kids like us probably shouldn’t be doing either.”

A thrill ran up Valerie’s spine.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 17

Canto Seventeen – Invisible People

The next day Valerie had a chance to hang out with Pidney and Mary again, so she took it.  She road into town on the school bus after school with Danny Murphy.  They didn’t actually talk about anything the whole way.  Anticipation is often better than the real thing.  And it wasn’t often that Mary and Pid were both off directly after school.  Pidney had no football practice that afternoon, and Mary canceled whatever school meetings she had planned that day in order to come back to Norwall with him after school.  The four Pirates were supposed to meet in the Library for Pirate business.

“There’s Mary and Pid,” said Danny pointing as he and Val stepped off Milo’s school bus.

“Yeah, but who is that?” Valerie asked, pointing at a mysterious cloaked figure standing behind the tree by the Library door.  She was instantly reminded of the cloaked man she had seen the day they got the Tiki idol.

“Hey, Pidney!” Danny shouted, “who is that near you behind that tree?”

Pidney was holding the door of his step-dad’s old 70’s Lincoln Mercury to help Mary get out.  Mary carried a tall stack of books.  They had driven home from the high school in Belle City together.

“What man?  Where?”  The figure moved out of sight behind the large fluffy pine tree.

“Look behind the tree!” shouted Valerie.

Pid walked around to where he could see behind the tree.  He looked back at Valerie and Danny and shrugged.  “Nobody here that I can see,” he said.

“You guys need to see what we found in the high school library,” said Mary waving them to come towards the Library building.

Valerie looked at Danny.  He shrugged.  They both walked toward the Library.

“I found some old high school yearbooks in the library,” said Mary.  “We can use them to get an idea what Captain Dettbarn used to look like.  He’s kinda hard to describe any other way.”

“And there’s a book about the ship, Mary Celeste.  It tells about the old ghost ship, not the Captain’s ship, but I still think it is important,” said Pidney.

Valerie and Danny walked across the street from the bus stop to join the two high school kids.

“Here’s the 1962 Belle City Bronco yearbook,” said Mary, handing the black-bound thin book of pictures to Valerie.  “The Captain is in the Junior Class in that one.  He had a beard then, just like the one he had on his face the last time I saw him.”

Valerie opened to the page of Junior portraits and ran her finger over the C’s and D’s until she got to Dettbarn.  He was kind of a dumpy fat boy even then, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a derfy smile that showed his crooked teeth.  He had a rather ratty looking beard, which was perfect for a rodent-like face, that, while it didn’t look like a rat, it did look an awful lot like the face of a woodchuck, or some kind of short-toothed beaver.

“He’s kinda funny looking,” Val said to herself, but loud enough for all to hear.

“Now, see here!  I take exception to that remark!” said a cloaked and hatted figure stepping out of the shadow of the evergreen tree by the door.

“Who…?” croaked Mary, leaping away from the figure and towards Pidney.

“Help me…!” squawked Danny as he awkwardly leaped into Pidney’s arms, the football muscles catching hold of the smaller boy easily.

“Don’t you get mad at me!” said Valerie hotly.  “It is not like I was talking to you… whoever you are!”  She lunged toward the stranger, grabbing his yachting cap and yanking it off his head. 

But where the head was supposed to be… nothing at all was there except a pair of thick bifocal glasses hanging in the air like they were weightless in outer space.

Valerie looked at the glasses, and then down at the yearbook picture still in her other hand.  Yes, it was an updated version of the same style of thick glasses. 

“Erm…  Captain Dettbarn.  It’s you!”

“Uncle Noah?” Mary said.  “What happened to your head?”

“Oh, um… it’s still there, Mary dear.  Head-hunters didn’t eat it or anything.  I am just the victim of a curse.  A curse that makes my body completely invisible.”  He removed the cloak to reveal a free-standing pair of pants, a short-sleeved red-and-white-striped shirt, and empty neckerchief, and floating white gloves that didn’t seem to be properly attached to the invisible dumpy body wearing the sailor’s clothes.

“Er, uh… sir?” asked Pidney, “What is all this purple smoke coming out from behind the pine tree?  It has a funky smell, like burning sugar or something.”

“Well, I hate to say it, but that is an indicator that the witchdoctor himself is watching us at the moment from somewhere not too far away.  That purple smoke always seems to come around right before some evil magic happens.”

“Oh, that’s not good.  Maybe we better go inside the library before anything bad can happen.”  Mary was looking around the street for signs of the evil witchdoctor.

Pidney put Danny on the ground and both boys headed up the Public Library steps.

“Um, uh… Pretty girl, can I have my hat back.  I want to go in the library in disguise.  No sense in scaring the librarian.”

Valerie frowned at the invisible man as she handed him back the hat and the disembodied gloves placed it back on top of his invisible rodent-like head. “Let’s go inside the Library,” said Mary.  “We have things to talk about and questions to ask… Lots and lots of questions to ask.”

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 16

Canto Sixteen – Uncle Dash

Mom loved to cook.  She could do wondrous things with a casserole.  In fact, her Tater Tot casserole was such a hit that it had spread to households all over the county and people from as far away as Illinois were writing her letters to get the secret recipe.  It wasn’t such a secret.  Browned and loose ground beef, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, Tater Tots from Ore-Ida, and real cheddar cheese went into her magical casserole.  But friends of friends and family were practically rabid about wanting to get their hands on the special secret recipe.  They didn’t realize until she told them that the recipe came from the label of a Campbell’s soup can to begin with.

So the house smelled wonderful because Uncle Dash and Valerie’s cousin Stacey were coming to dinner.

Stacy was college age now, and Valerie looked up to her.  She was smart and independent, and she knew how to dress up like a fashion model whenever there was an excuse to do it.  As Val and Stacy set the table, the two had a brief moment or two to catch up on cousin stuff.

“I hear the Pirates are re-forming,” Stacy said.  “And they tell me you are going to be one of them?”

“Well, yeah… so?”

“Don’t bring it up tonight.  Daddy will get mad.  I mean, more mad than he already is.”

“Uncle Dash is mad?”  Valerie was slightly taken by surprise.  Uncle Dash was the kind of guy who was always laughing, always joking.  Valerie had relied on his sense of humor and mature wisdom her whole life long.  She believed he was even wiser than Daddy Kyle.  He was a farmer.  He had the wisdom of the Earth.

“Your Uncle Dash is mad at me,” said Stacey.

“Why would he be mad at you?”

“I told him a secret today.  One I have to tell everybody sooner or later.”

“Really?  Tell me.”

Stacey was obviously biting her own lower lip for some reason.  Why would she do that?  It didn’t really make sense to Val.  There were tears in her cousin’s eyes. 

“I mean it, Stacey.  I love you.  You can tell me.”

“Well, I…”  Before Stacey could spill it, the adults came into the room.

“Really,” Uncle Dash said with a frown on his face, “We could sell that sixty acres southwest of town and the big pasture along the Iowa River.  That would give us enough money to at least bargain for more time… maybe another growing season.”

“But, Dash, that’s all your land.  This is my debt.  I can’t let you sacrifice from your share.  It should be some of my land.”  Kyle sat down at the head of the table with a defeated-seeming kerplunk.  Valerie knew her dad’s basic onomatopoeias, the sound-words of his soul, and kerplunk was definitely not a good one.

“But it is some of the less-valuable land I am offering to sell.  All of your land is better, and we should be trying to keep all of it.”

“Yeah, well… I still don’t want you to make sacrifices to pay my debts.” 

Uncle Dash took the seat next to Daddy Kyle where Valerie would’ve sat if they didn’t have company.

Mom came in carrying a big casserole dish full of steaming-hot tater-tot casserole.  She proudly set her work of art down in the middle of the dining room table.  “Stacey, will you help me get the peas and the mashed potatoes?” Mom said.  Then she dashed back out to the kitchen.

“You’re my brother, Kyle.  You have to let me help you.  And it is all family land.  We have to work together, even though we divided the farms when Dad died.  It is all one large farm, really.”

“Well, yeah, but…”

That conversation died too as Mom and Stacey brought the rest of the supper to the table, and Mom insisted that everybody sit down and eat.  Valerie said Grace and food was passed all around.  Everybody at the table had a farmer’s healthy appetite, and soon mouths were too full to talk.  Conversation was suspended for the more important thing… at least until all were stuffed and satisfied.

“It’s a shame that Patricia couldn’t come with you this evening, Dash,” Mom said.

“She was sorry to miss it, but she really wasn’t feeling well.  She needed to take some medicine and go to bed.  Which reminds me…  Stacey has some new she needs to share with everyone in the family.”

Stacey looked at her father with a distinctly angry expression.

“Well, you may as well tell them.”

Stacey’s glare at Uncle Dash made Valerie suddenly worried for her cousin.  What could be wrong?

“I’m… not going to college anymore.”

“Oh, Stacey!” Mom said.  “Why not?”

“Well, I’m…”

The pause was unbearable.

“I’m pregnant.”

Stunned silence followed.  Uncle Dash’s face was so sad it almost made Valerie burst into tears.  Stacey did cry, and that was almost worse.

“How, I mean… who?”  Daddy didn’t know what to say.  He was kinda tongue-tied, right up until the answer hit him square in the memory.  “Not the Toad!  Oh, Stacey!”

“His name is Brom, not Toad.  I don’t know why everyone needs to call him that.”  Stacey’s tears were replaced almost instantly with fury.

“It’s the way he drives.  He reminds everyone of Toad in the Disney movie Wind in the Willows.  You know how recklessly he roars about in that yellow Ford Mustang of his.”  Uncle Dash was very direct and soft-spoken.  It was an argument Valerie had overheard before.

“He also has a big mouth like a frog,” said Valerie timidly.

“Oh, Val…”  Stacey shot her a wounded look.  Whose side was she supposed to be on, anyway?

“Well, I have to say, it isn’t such a big surprise.  You have been in love with that boy for a while now, haven’t you, Stacey?” Daddy Kyle said.

“Yes, I love him with all of my heart.”

“Is he going to do the right thing by you?”  Mom asked.

“He’s willing to marry me… if Daddy doesn’t forbid it.”

“Dash, you can’t forbid it,” said Daddy Kyle.  “That’s no way to start off a life… for Stacey or Brom either one.”

“You would take their side, wouldn’t you,” Uncle Dash said harshly.  “You know, as my little brother, it wouldn’t kill you to take my side once in a while.”

Daddy stared straight at his plate.  His mouth was a tense and very straight line.  “Stacey would be good for Brom.  As Mrs. Brown, she’s bound to settle him down at least a little bit.  Like the way Julie settled me down.  You remember what a wild kid I was, right?”

“We haven’t decided how it’s going to be, yet,” Dash said calmly.  “There is a lot to be decided yet.”

“You really can’t decide for her, you know,” Daddy Kyle said.

Uncle Dash got angry at that.  “How would you feel if it were Valerie in this situation?  Maybe with somebody like that Murphy kid… or Richard Martin’s little rag boy?”

“It’s not the same.  Valerie is still too young to be a mother.”

“And Stacey isn’t?”

“Kyle, Dash, please!” said Mom, “don’t discuss this in front of the girls.  They can hear everything, and I don’t think it helps anybody to hear you two argue about this.”

It was quiet for a few moments, but a very tense quiet.

“Julie is right, Dash,” Daddy said.  “Why don’t you and I go for a drive in your pickup, and the girls can spend some time together here.”

“We have a lot to talk about, Kyle.  But it won’t do a lick of good if you don’t listen more than you talk.”

The two brothers glared at each other.  But they were family, and too much alike not to smash heads together like a couple of rams in springtime.  So they both went out and got in Uncle Dash’s Chevy pickup and drove on into town.

“Headed for Martin’s Bar and Grill,” said Stacey, blowing a stray hair out of her eyes to show disgust.

Valerie wordlessly snaked her thin young arms around her beloved cousin and gave her a distressed and tearful squeeze.

“It will all get worked out for the best,” said Mom in her most comforting voice.

“I hope so,” Stacey said.  Then after a long pause she repeated, “I hope so.”

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 15

Canto Fifteen – About the Reefer Mary Celeste

The meeting at the library hadn’t happened on the day originally planned because Alice Stewart sometimes had to close the library when things came up.  Her daughter, Alicia, was a single mother raising a child alone, and some days the library simply had to be closed when the baby developed a mysterious cough and had to go see a doctor in Belle City.   All of this was explained to Mary, Pidney, and Valerie, and apologized for, by Val’s Aunt Alice as they arrived at the finally open Norwall library on Main Street.  The library was a thing of some pride to several Norwall families, the Clarkes and the Stewarts and the Duffys prominent among them because they had raised the money and remodeled the old butcher shop and bought all the books.  The place was a literary miracle for the small town, as most towns of that size did not have anything equivalent to it.

“I swear to you, Valerie,” said Aunt Alice, “I will make it up to you for having to put you off for a couple of days.  I will certainly help you three find whatever important research you are looking for.”

“I think we are looking for Tiki idols, Auntie,” said Valerie.

“Show her, Pid,” said Mary.

Pidney sat the backpack on the librarian’s desk and opened it.  He pulled out Valerie’s ugly little wooden man and sat it down on the desk. 

“I know a book that might help,” said Aunt Alice.  She went directly to a shelf that contained the 200’s from the Dewey Decimal system and pulled down a large old book called Treasury of Maori Folklore by A.W. Reed.  It had “Tiki” listed on a number of pages in the index.  So Aunt Alice handed the book to Pidney who soon found a picture that somewhat resembled the ugly little wooden man.

“It says on this page that Tiki was the very first man,” read Pidney.  “Apparently he found the first woman in a pond… somebody called Marikoriko… they became the first parents of all men.”

“So, he’s our bug-ugly great-great-great grandfather,” commented Mary.

“Doesn’t look so great to me,” said Valerie.

“Well, he’s found in most Polynesian cultures as a large piece of wood carved in the shape of a man.  And, um…”  Pidney’s voice trailed away.

“What, Pid?” asked Mary.

“Well, um…”

“Let me see,” said Valerie.  She grabbed the book out of Pidney’s hands.  The picture of a Tiki idol in the book seemed to wink at her as she tracked down the page to find where Pid was reading.  “Oh, here it is…”   Val began to giggle almost uncontrollably.

“What?” said Mary.  “Read it aloud.”

“In New Zealand, some Maoris contend that Tiki represents the penis of Tane, the god of forests and birds.  He is strongly associated with the procreative act.”  She read that and then broke down into a laughing fit.  One of those painfully embarrassing laughing fits that happen when something is entirely too personal to talk about with the boy you have a crush on and you can’t help but nervously laugh.

Pidney, red as the ripe tomatoes in Mrs. Clarke’s vegetable garden, wandered over towards the encyclopedias and began looking at the volumes of Collier’s.

“What else does it say?” asked Mary.

“It says that in the Cook Islands, at Rarotonga, Tiki is credited with being the guardian of Avaiki the Underworld.    Magical idols of Tiki can be given offerings to smooth the way for those who fear they are dying.  The idol maker is said to have magical powers and can in some cases bring the idol to life as a servant by chanting and touching the painted tattoos on the idol’s body in the correct order.”

“You’re kidding,” Mary said.

“No, really!  It says it right here.”  Valerie pointed to the disputed passage and Mary read it for herself.

“Well, it does say that.  But it doesn’t have any mention of the proper chant to use or anything.”

“This ugly thing does appear to have painted tattoos,” said Aunt Alice, looking at the idol’s protruding buttocks and arched back.  “Swirly patterns with little spots in the center like bull’s-eyes.”

“What was Captain Dettbarn’s ship called?” Pidney asked.

Mary looked over at the Polack who was thumbing through the “M” volume of Colliers’ Encyclopedia.  “The Reefer Mary Celeste.  Why, Pid?”

“This encyclopedia says it was a ghost ship.”

“A ghost ship?” gasped Valerie.

“Good heavens!” swore Aunt Alice.

“What does it say?” asked Mary in a skeptical voice.

“It says the Mary Celeste was an American merchant brigantine that was found sailing near the Azores on December 4th, 1872.  No crew was aboard.  A lifeboat was missing.  And they never found any trace of the crew.  Not the Captain, either.  Captain Briggs, his wife, and their infant daughter, Sofia simply vanished at sea and were never heard from again.”

“Pidney, that was a sailing ship more than a hundred years ago.  That was the Brigantine Mary Celeste.  Not the Reefer Mary Celeste.  Captain Dettbarn’s ship was a modern cargo ship with refrigerated cargo capacity.  They are not the same ship.”

“Oh,” Pidney said softly.  He closed the book.

The ladies all got a chuckle at Pidney’s expense.  But Valerie noticed that Pidney was still uneasy about the spooky connection.  She thought it was something that might later prove to be significant after all.  At least to Pid.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 14

Canto Fourteen – Log Book of the Reefer Mary Celeste

Valerie opened the book to the page Mary had indicated with the red paper book mark.

“That’s the spot where the story seems to begin,” said Mary.  “The part before that ‘s all cargo manifests and navigational data.”

“Okay,” said Valerie, “Then here goes;” She began to read aloud.

We were sailing southwest from the Republic of Palau in Micronesia where we had taken on supplies at the big island of Koror.  It was September of 1979.  The seas were calm, although the first mate was tracking a big storm that could potentially turn in our way.   We were supposed to deliver the refrigerated meat and vegetables in our hold to Pinoy Proud  Food Markets of Manila by the beginning of October.  There were supposed to be bananas too, but we had made the mistake of putting the bananas in the freezer and frozen bananas become just the right shade of poo-poo color to make them unmarketable.  So the crew had been eating a lot of frozen banana pops.   Doc Johnson, whom we call Doc because he knows a lot of useful stuff was worried that we might inadvertently cause hyperkalemic death among the crew, which worried me a bit, but since no one else seemed to know what the heck hyperkalemic meant, we were okay with eating that many frozen bananas, but I was later led to wonder if, in fact, the whole hyperkalemic death thing might be the source of hallucinations.

It was a valid worry as it turned out.  Because that September, in the early morning on Monday, September 10th, Kooky Smith first saw the mermaid.

“Wow!” said Danny Murphy, “a real mermaid?”

“Well, that’s the debate, isn’t it?” said Mary.  “The story starts to get stranger and stranger.  And he even says it might be because they ate too many frozen bananas.”

“Does it say what the mermaid looked like?” asked Pidney.

Valerie looked carefully at the block of text ahead written in Captain Dettbarn’s goofy wrong-way-leaning handwritten letters.

“Um, yes, let me read that part.”

Chinooki was a naked woman from the waist upwards, with comely breasts and long pinkish-white hair.  Her skin was a kind of fish-belly-looking silver and her dark red eyes looked brown most of the time, but glowed like fire at night.

“Gonga!” said Danny, a word he often used to express both surprise and admiration at the same moment.

Pidney, however, was blushing a cherry red that covered most of his crew-cut head and neck.

“Chinooki?” asked Mary, “What kind of name is that?”

“It sounds kinda fishy,” said Valerie.  “Like Chinook salmon.”

“Or maybe Chinese,” suggested Danny.

They all turned and looked at Danny.

“What?  They call Chinese people Chinks, right?”

“Polite people don’t,” suggested Mary.

“Read more about what happened,” Pidney asked Valerie.

Kooky said that he saw her the first time off the starboard rail, swimming with her head and shoulders raised out of the water.  He thought she was some kind of shipwreck survivor, but when he hailed her to offer help, she waved at him and smiled, then dove and showed him her fish tail.

Of course, no one believed him.  Sea stories like that get told all the time, and Kooky liked to drink… sometimes even on duty.  We all knew he was quite capable of seeing things that weren’t real.

But the second time she was spotted, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones were also on deck, and when Kooky shouted they immediately came to the rail and saw her too.  Now, Bob was like Kooky in a lot of ways, so we woulda thought he was making it up too, or just backing Kooky’s kooky story for yucks and kippers.   But Chuck was well known for both sobriety and honesty.  He was the man I trusted to keep the ship’s books because I knew he’d never cheat any of us out of a single penny we were due.  And he’d sooner cut off his own hand than tell a lie.

“We have ta catch her and bring her aboard,” Kooky said.

“You gonna eat her?” Bob asked.

“Are you daft, man?  I don’t want to hurt her,” Kooky said.  “She’s beautiful.  I want to catch her and keep her.”

“Be wary,” Chuck said.  “If she’s not a natural creature, then she’s some kind of unnatural menace sort of thing.  Bringing her on board this ship might be the last thing we ever do in this life.”

“Well, I for one, would very much like to see this real mermaid,” I said.  I would later come to regret those words more than any I had ever said before in my whole life.

The four young Pirates all looked at each other, and all four of them shivered at once.  Valerie could certainly read out loud in a way that would scare you out of your under pants.

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Filed under humor, lying, novel, NOVEL WRITING, old books, Paffooney, Pirates